McCarron triumphs in long run

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Steve McCarron wields a long putter and often to fine effect. On the 18th green at La Costa late yesterday afternoon in his semi-final of the Accenture World Matchplay against Paul Azinger, McCarron holed from over 40 feet, the ball curling right to left to find the edge of the cup. Having pulled his approach into rough left of the green, Azinger did not come close to holing the chip to force extra holes.

All week Azinger, 42, had shown why he was picked as a Ryder Cup wild card by US captain Curtis Strange. But McCarron, who bogeyed the last hole at Riviera last week to hand victory to Len Mattiace, has regrouped impressively. He beat Colin Montgomerie in the opening round with the help of a hole-in-one, then Mike Weir, Sergio Garcia and Tom Lehman in yesterday morning's quarter-finals.

Both Azinger and McCarron led by one hole twice but never any more than that. Azinger won the 13th to square the match and four halves followed before McCarron's late winner. "Despite last week my confidence has been good and the long putter is beginning to get hot, which is good timing," McCarron said.

In today's 36-hole final for $1m, McCarron, the 45th seed, will play his fellow Californian Kevin Sutherland, the 62nd seed who has been on a rollercoaster run since beating David Duval at the 20th after being two-down with two holes to play in the first round.

Though McCarron has three tour victories, Sutherland has none. But yesterday morning he defeated US PGA champion David Toms and then Brad Faxon at the last in the semi-finals. Arriving at the 18th one up, Sutherland missed the green and chipped poorly but was saved when Faxon, extraordinarily, three putted, missing from three feet.

As in the inaugural World Matchplay in 1999, Jose Maria Olazabal was defeated in the quarter-finals to leave an all-American line-up in the last four. Olazabal lost at the 20th hole to Faxon, who in typical style drained a 20-footer on the 11th green to clinch victory. Olazabal, who had missed from 25 feet at the par-three, had survived nail-biting encounters with Justin Leonard, Retief Goosen and Mark Calcavecchia, all of which had gone to the 18th, but the extra holes yesterday morning proved his downfall.

Faxon had never trailed and lost only four holes out of 44 in winning his first three matches but Olazabal changed all that by winning the first three holes. Considered one of the best putters in the world, Faxon could not get the ball into the hole on the first three greens, missing from seven, 12 and five feet.

However, one of the qualities that makes the former Ryder Cup player so dangerous on the greens is his ability to forget the missed putts and concentrate on repeating a finely-tuned stroke. That has been a mighty virtue on greens as bumpy as those here and Faxon got his reward when he holed from 40 feet for a birdie at the fifth to cut the deficit to two. He added another birdie at the eighth but it was not until the 14th that he drew level when Ollazabal's six-footer for par lipped out.

Two holes later Faxon went ahead when he holed from seven feet and Olazabal missed from five, but facing elimination at the 18th, the Spaniard again showed his immense courage by hitting his approach to 12 feet. After Faxon had rimmed the hole with his effort, Olazabal sank his to force extra holes.

"It all came down to the putting in the end," Olazabal said. "Brad made a few at the right times and that made the difference. If you putt the way I did and he putts like he did, he will win."

After a week of upsets, the highest world-ranked player left at La Costa by Friday evening was acting as a ball girl on one of the resort's tennis court. As Sergio Garcia took out his frustrations after losing in the third round by taking on Tom Lehman's caddie, Andy Martinez, at tennis, Martinez's wife, Stacey, and Garcia's friend Martina Hingis were responsible for fetching the more wildly struck shots.

Garcia got to know Martinez by spending time with his boss when Lehman won the Open at Royal Lytham in 1996. Hingis has visited Garcia in Spain and watched the 22-year-old Spaniard during the World Matchplay. Hingis has begun to play golf and visited the Taylor Made headquarters here in Carlsbad to collect some new equipment.

"I have a lot more respect for golfers after being here," Hingis said. "They have to make so many pressure shots. And they can't wait for their opponent to make a mistake. They have to make their shots, one after another."

As for the tennis, Garcia won in a superset tie-breaker after each won a set. Commented Hingis: "He's not a bad tennis player ­ for a golfer. He's come along a bit." Good enough to be the Swiss Miss's practice partner yesterday morning.