Singh holds off Micheel in battle of attrition

World Match Play: American overcomes fatigue after falling victim to late-night robbery but cannot prevent Fijian from reaching semi-finals
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When Shaun Micheel lost to Vijay Singh at the second extra hole in the second round of the World Match Play here yesterday, it was the second time he had been robbed in less than 24 hours. The winner of the USPGA Championship two months ago was in his rented house having dinner when burglars stole $2,000 in cash, credit cards and his driving licence.

"It was quite frightening," said the American. "I guess people are more brazen about that sort of thing round about here, but it wasn't the greatest start to my Match Play participation."

The welcome he received on the course from a large gallery was more friendly, but after waiting two hours for the police to arrive he did not get to bed until 3.30am.

Perhaps surprisingly, Micheel had been three-up until Singh won the last hole before lunch. He went three-up again with an eagle at the fourth in the afternoon, but the match suddenly shifted gear when Singh made four birdies in five holes between the sixth and the 10th.

But despite not being his usually consistent self off the tee, Micheel birdied the short 14th and the 16th, with a fine eight-iron out of a fairway bunker to take the lead again. Both players made rather a mess of the 17th hole but the notorious par-five proved fatal for the newcomer to the West Course. Micheel first drove out of bounds on the left, then hit another drive into the trees on the right. His next shot crossed the fairway and was also out of bounds.

Both birdied the 36th hole and parred the 37th, but at the 38th, the short second hole of the West Course, Micheel's tee-shot found a bunker and he failed to get up and down - a sad way for such a fine match to end.

"It was a battle of attrition," Micheel said. "I didn't get much sleep last night but you play on adrenaline and the desire to win. I took Vijay to the wire and it's disappointing to have the opportunity to win and not to do so."

The compensation for all his troubles was £90,000 in prize-money.

"I'm really happy with the result," said Singh. "Any time you win a match like that you feel for the other guy."

Singh, the 1997 champion, plays Ernie Els in today's semi-final. The pair, respectively third- and second-ranked players in the world, have met three times before, with the South African winning twice, including in last year's semi-finals on the way to his fourth victory.

Els only survived a dramatic comeback from his compatriot Tim Clark. Five-down with six to play, Clark won four holes in a row from the 13th to delay the start of Els' 34th birthday celebrations.

"Tim showed a lot of character and maybe it was good for me to have to produce some shots under the gun," said Els.

Though he might have liked to have watched today's England-South Africa rugby match, he would rather be playing, although last night he had other things on his mind. "I've made it to 34 years old and I'm going to get absolutely pissed."

In the other semi-final, Ben Curtis, the Open champion, plays Thomas Bjorn, the man who handed the unknown American the claret jug by taking three to escape from a bunker on the 16th hole at Royal St George's.

"I can understand why people will look back to the Open," Bjorn said, "but that's long gone for me. I lost the Open, but it doesn't matter who I lost it to. I don't have any unfinished business with Ben Curtis. I will be very determined to win the match but not because of the Open. I have to feel like I'm playing the best player in the world, stick my head down and play my game."

Bjorn, the first alternate for the event, only got in when Tiger Woods declared he would not be coming, although the Dane always thought that would be the case. A resident on the estate and again enjoying the support of the gallery, he never trailed against the Masters champion Mike Weir, the No 2 seed.

Curtis, on his first appearance in this country since his dramatic victory at Royal St George's in July, received a bye in the first round. His opening drive only travelled 210 yards in the chilly morning air as he lost three of the first four holes to Chad Campbell. But he found his game enough to come home in 32 with an eagle at the 18th giving him a one-hole advantage at lunch. Putting as he had so smoothly at Sandwich during the summer, five birdies and no bogeys helped the 26-year-old from Kent, Ohio to a 5 and 3 win over Campbell.

"I'm really thrilled," said Curtis, who had not finished better than 13th before he won the Open and has not finished better than 30th since. "I know in my heart that I truly deserved to win the Open. You want to do well and prove to everyone you deserve it but I will try not to think about that tomorrow. You can only do your best."

World Match Play Championship: (Wentworth) Quarter-finals: E Els (SA) bt T Clark (SA) 2 holes; S Micheel (USA) lost to V Singh (Fiji) at 38th; B Curtis (USA) bt C Campbell (USA) 5 & 3; M Weir (Can) lost to T Bjorn (Den) 5 & 4.

* The Singapore-based Australian Scott Barr shot a four-under-par 67 for a nine-under 133 yesterday to take a two-stroke lead after the second round of the Macau Open, two strokes clear of Thailand's Thaworn Wirachant. Colin Montgomerie shot a one-over 72 to fall five shots off the pace.

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