Jose Maria Olazabal and Retief Goosen, two of the most in-form players this early in the season, played a thrilling match in the second round of the Accenture World Matchplay at La Costa. Olazabal won at the 18th hole but only after seeing a five-up lead after seven holes disappear at the 17th.
"It might have been great for you to watch but it was not good for my heart," Olazabal said. The Spaniard won the Buick Invitational a fortnight ago, while Goosen has won twice already this year, including by eight strokes in the Johnnie Walker Classic in Perth. Olazabal, whose driving has increased in length and accuracy after working with the coach Butch Harmon, eagled the second on the way to a substantial early lead. But Goosen responded with five birdies between the eighth and the 17th to take the match to the last.
There the South African missed the green, while Olazabal decisively ended matters by holing from 18 feet for a birdie. The punch of the air from the Spaniard was worthy of a tournament victory. "You can't relax when you have a big lead, you have to keep playing solid golf," Olazabal said. "I did that but Retief turned really well on the back nine and his experience helped him to keep closing the gap. It worked out in the end." Olazabal, who reached the quarter-finals in 1999, now plays Mark Calcavecchia, who beat Ollie 4 and 3 in the second round in 2000.
Niclas Fasth continues to surprise. In his first major championship the Swede finished runner-up to David Duval in last year's Open at Royal Lytham to become a new name in the European Ryder Cup team. The 29-year-old from Gothenburg has won only once in Europe, at the 2000 Madeira Island Open, and cannot remember the last time he played the head-to-head form of the game so he was an unlikely person to become the first European into the third round.
Fasth is rapidly gaining experience in matchplay and will meet a wily old veteran of the craft, Paul Azinger, in the last 16 at today. Fasth beat the ninth seed Vijay Singh 3 and 2 in the second round, while the 42-year-old Azinger, named by US captain as a wild card for the Ryder Cup, defeated Davis Love at the 18th hole.
Only three years after having to go back to the Qualifying School after trying to play on both the US and European tours and losing his cards on both, Fasth is seeded 41st here. He defeated Michael Campbell on Wednesday and was never behind against the former Masters and USPGA champion yesterday.
Birdies from the Swede at the fourth and sixth holes, coupled from a bogey from Singh at the fifth, put Fasth firmly in control and though neither scored particularly well on the back nine as the wind got up, Fasth recovered from missing a three-footer to clinch the match at the 15th by holing from five feet for the win at the next.
"I don't think I have played matchplay as a pro," said Fasth. "I think the last time was when I won the Swedish Junior over 10 years ago. This is a good chance to get some experience in matchplay against the world's best players. The Seve Trophy will be the only other chance before the Ryder Cup."
"Apprehensive" is not a word Fasth understands, literally, in English at least. "I feel if I play well I can beat the best players," he said. "I did think I was at a disadvantage not having played matchplay but I was hoping to get into it quickly."
Ernie Els joined Love, Singh, Goosen and Chris DiMarco as another top-10 player to exit the event. The South African enjoyed an early lead against Tom Lehman but the American came back from three-down at the turn to win at the 19th hole.
After the shocks of Wednesday when the top three seeds, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Duval, all departed, Sergio Garcia was the highest ranked player left. Yesterday he was playing the promising young American Charles Howell and had a prominent supporter in the tennis star Martina Hingis. The pair met in Melbourne during the Australian Open tennis and Spanish newspapers have reported that Hingis was seen playing tennis and golf in Garcia's home town of Castellon.