Martin dreams up a fitting Spanish finale

It was always going to be the last final of the Alfred Dunhill Cup, but whether it would prove a lasting memory was in doubt until Miguel Angel Martin inspired Spain to a dramatic victory over South Africa. Martin had replaced last year's winning captain, Sergio Garcia, but Spain successfully retained their title, and theirs will remain the last name on the trophy.

It was always going to be the last final of the Alfred Dunhill Cup, but whether it would prove a lasting memory was in doubt until Miguel Angel Martin inspired Spain to a dramatic victory over South Africa. Martin had replaced last year's winning captain, Sergio Garcia, but Spain successfully retained their title, and theirs will remain the last name on the trophy.

They did it the hard way, retrieving unpromising positions in their last three matches. In their final group match on Saturday against Sweden, Jose-Maria Olazabal came back from five behind Mathias Gronberg to win the crucial point.

Then, in yesterday morning's semi-finals, Olazabal was four behind after four against Angel Cabrera but again ended victorious as Spain beat Argentina 2-1. Ollie had won all four of his matches entering the final only to lose by two strokes to Ernie Els, for whom an outstanding record of five wins out of five was no consolation.

Miguel Angel Jimenez was always in command against Retief Goosen, usually South Africa's strongman in this event, so the top match became the pivotal encounter. David Frost led by one with two to play but then made the cardinal sin of following Martin over the 17th green on to the road.

Both ended up with double-bogey sixes to maintain the one-stroke difference. But while Frost could only par the last, Martin tied the match with a remarkable birdie. His wedge shot almost went into the hole on the fly but hit the pin and rebounded, cruelly, into the Valley of Sin.

But, not unlike Costantino Rocca at the 1995 Open, Martin took a putter from 40 feet and holed out. Where he had thrown his visor on the ground in disgust moments earlier, Martin now threw it to the heavens in celebration. "It was an incredible putt, unbelievable," he said.

Frost, perhaps rattled, almost drove out of bounds on the right of the first in the play-off. But, after Martin had parred the hole, the South African's most costly mistake was in three-putting, missing from eight feet to prolong the final. For the 38-year-old Martin, it was a special moment. In 1997, what should have been the proudest point in his career, playing in the Ryder Cup at Valderrama, was ruined by injury and summary ejection from the European team.

"We did not have Sergio this week but I am very proud of Jimenez and Martin," said Olazabal. "Martin is not big in size but he has the heart of a lion. He made it possible."

Wales, defeated by South Africa in the morning, had reached the semi-finals for the third time by emerging top of the group which included Scotland, the No 1 seeds, England and Germany. But as on their previous two visits to the last-four, they progressed no further. Phillip Price was undefeated for the week but his match with Goosen, halved in 68s, was irrelevant once the top two games had been lost.

It was apparent fairly early on that Wales were in trouble when Ian Woosnam trailed by four to Frost at the turn and David Park was a similar margin adrift of Els. A pair of double bogeys at the 16th and 17th condemned Park to an eight-stroke defeat, while Woosie's 76 was too many by six.

Woosnam had won a scrappy encounter with Colin Montgomerie at the second extra hole on Saturday and was hoping for an improvement in his putting that never materialised. The former Masters champion is back with the long putter, but found judging pace over the undulations in the huge greens an elusive art. "I was shocking on the greens," Woosnam said. "It wasn't even golf. I didn't play well all week but instead of improving, I got worse." Over the winter, he plans to practise on an Astroturf green at home. "I hope by this time next year, I'm back with the short putter."

It was Argentina's first visit to the semis but only Eduardo Romero continued his form from the first three days to beat Jimenez by two strokes. Cabrera started in fine style by birdieing the first three holes and adding another at the fifth, but bogeys at the last two holes handed victory to Olazabal.

Next year the tournament reverts to being a regular European Tour event that will count towards the Order of Merit. The twist is that it will be a pro-am featuring a number of celebrities and played overthree courses, with the Old Course as the host venue.

RESULTS

SEMI-FINALS

*4 South Africa bt 8 Wales 2-0

D Frost 70 bt Ian Woosnam 76; E Els 69 bt David Park 77; R Goosen 68 halved with Phillip Price 68.

3 Spain bt 2 Argentina 2-1

J-M Olazabal 69 bt A Cabrera 71; M A Jimenez 71 lost to E Romero 69; M A Martin 71 bt J Coceres 72.

FINAL

Spain bt South Africa 2-1

Martin 74 bt Frost 74 at first extra hole; Jimenez 70 beat Goosen 71; Olazabal 70 lost to Els 68. *seedings

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