Five representatives of the European Ryder Cup team teed up in the Cisco World Match Play Championship but it took Padraig Harrington to prevent the embarrassment of today's final featuring not the current stars but the captain and his vice-captain. Ian Woosnam, Sam Torrance's assistant, made it through with another tremendous victory but Torrance himself fell to Harrington 4 and 3.
Woosnam, after wins over Retief Goosen and Colin Montgomerie, beat the defending champion Lee Westwood 10 and 9, equalling the third best result ever in the event. Woosnam is 43, Torrance 48. "Woosie might be a 40-plus, I'm a 50-minus," Torrance said. "I'm thrilled at the way I have played this week." Harrington was 10 under for 33 holes and gave Torrance little hope he would ever make a mistake. No Irishman as ever won the tournament. Woosnam, when he beat his old Shropshire rival Sandy Lyle in 1987, was the first British winner. This is his 13th appearance, while the 30-year-old Harrington is playing for the third time but has only ever lost to Montgomerie.
"It will be a great final," Torrance said. "I will enjoy watching it. Neither makes many mistakes. Woosie still has a class swing and loves these marathon matches. He just keeps going and grinds it out." Woosnam has been gaining in confidence all season, as Harrington noticed at the German Masters last week. "When Ian is playing well he just stands up and hits it and you could see the confidence was there," he said. "I'm not going to be thinking of him as a veteran – he doesn't. Age is not important when you have played as well as he has. I'm going to have to concentrate on my own game."
Harrington is a fine match player, which makes his inability to finish off regular stroke-play tournaments – 15 runner-ups to three victories in his professional career – all the more perplexing. "Ever since I was an amateur I have generally maximised my ability in match play to play better than in stroke play," he said.
This year's World Match Play has lacked a little with the absence of the top American players but the head-to-head format never fails to entice. Harrington topped the bill on the opening day with his stunning 9 and 8 victory over Nick Faldo before defeating Darren Clarke in the quarter-finals.
Two late replacements were required to fill out the 12-man field and Seve Ballesteros arrived on Monday while Torrance interrupted his breakfast at nearby Sunningdale on Tuesday morning to accept a call that has netted him £85,000 for a week in which he usually earns his cash from the odd wager. His win in the all-our-yesterdays clash with Ballesteros on Thursday was his first in four matches in the event but it was his victory against the world No 5 Vijay Singh – the last player to win from the first round in 1997 – that captivated a large gallery in the autumnal sunshine of Friday.
It was another glorious occasion yesterday and there was little between the two men – one the son of the great coach Bob Torrance and the other his latest star pupil – over the morning round. The fourth and the sixth holes were halved in birdies, but Torrance had holed from 18 feet for a two at the fifth to go in front.
The 11th and 12th were also halved in birdies but Harrington's five at the 15th, his only bogey, increased the Scot's lead. Harrington's response was impressive: he birdied the last three holes of the morning, with Torrance holing from four feet at the 18th to stay all square. "The way Sam had played it was a bonus to get back to level and gave me some momentum for the afternoon," Harrington said.
Harrington was credited with an approximate 66, Torrance a 67. The Irishman resumed after a swift lunch by holing from 22 feet for a three at the first and took four of the first five holes, helped by a couple of errors from Torrance when he bunkered his approach at the third and three-putted the fifth. Given that Torrance has only made three cuts this season, his thoughts virtually all on the Ryder Cup, he came into the event with a freshness in his game. The Seniors Tour is less than two years away and a player who retains his shot-making ability will do very nicely indeed on the pension-boosting circuit.
At the seventh, a beautiful par-four played down into a valley and then up to a tricky elevated green, Torrance found the green with a seven-iron and then holed an 18-footer for a three. At the next, he put his approach to eight feet and holed that to cut the deficit to two.
A brilliant chip out of the trees at the short 10th to a foot kept the Scot's recovery on track but, finally perhaps, tiredness told and three successive bogeys from the 13th handed victory to Harrington. He missed the green at both the first two, and then drove into the trees at the 15th and could only chip back to the fairway, after which his hopes were doomed.
"Padraig played really well. It was nice to see him perform under pressure," Torrance said. "My dad will be happy that at least one of us is in the final. I wasn't feeling tired, the adrenalin keeps you going, but once I get home I will probably collapse for a couple of days." Harrington said: "If the gallery was for Sam, they were very polite about it because both our good shots were applauded equally. It was a big day in the Torrance household but if Bob was sitting at home watching, he would have wanted me to score two 59s and Sam to win only by scoring a 59 and a 58. That's the way he is."