Wales seize last chance to make up for lost time

Ian Woosnam led Wales into the semi-finals of the Alfred Dunhill Cup and then discovered that today will be the last opportunity for the principality to get their name on the trophy. After 16 years, the Nations' Cup format has been abandoned and will be replaced nextyear by a pro-am style links championship under the same sponsors.

Ian Woosnam led Wales into the semi-finals of the Alfred Dunhill Cup and then discovered that today will be the last opportunity for the principality to get their name on the trophy. After 16 years, the Nations' Cup format has been abandoned and will be replaced nextyear by a pro-am style links championship under the same sponsors.

Wales, the only home nation not to have won the event, were also the only one to progress from the group stage after beating the No 1 seeds, Scotland, 3-0. It is the first time the Welsh have reached the semi-finals for nine years; their two previous visits ended in defeat. This morning they face the favourites, South Africa, who were let off when New Zealand's Greg Turner missed a short putt at the 19th against Retief Goosen, while Argentina and Spain meet in the other semi.

Woosnam secured the solitary point Wales required by beating Colin Montgomerie at the second extra hole when the Scot three-putted, missing from eight feet in his attempt to prolong the match.

The golf was hardly of the highest standard, the pair tying on 73 for 18 holes, but it was quick: they were round in a little over three hours. The last time the countries met, seven years ago, Montgomerie beat Woosnam by seven strokes and Scotland won 3-0. They needed the same result again, and for England to nick a game off Germany.

This proved a futile hope as the Germans achieved a 3-0 whitewash to complete a horrible week for English national teams. Their golfers here won only one of nine games and were a collective six over par.

By contrast, Wales are 17 under and have dropped only one of their nine games. Even had Woosnam lost, David Park and Phillip Price were always in command against Andrew Coltart and Gary Orr respectively. "It just shows how these two lads have come on," Woosnam said of his team-mates. "I think we have shown this week that the Wales team can play."

This was their first opportunity to do so since 1996. "We have warranted a place in the event for a couple of years but it hasn't happened," Woosnam added. "Perhaps Dunhill don't sell much stuff in Wales."

The tournament's demise is a damning indictment of modern professional sportsmen who cannot find space in their schedules to represent their countries. Over 50 Americans turned down an invitation before Larry Mize filed out a US side whose only victory of the week came over Japan yesterday. Sergio Garcia, captain of the winning Spanish team a year ago, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Jean van de Velde and Stuart Appleby were also missing for various reasons.

Worse, much worse, was the revelation that almost double the prize fund of £1m was required to assemble the field each year. With no appearance fees next year, the purse will triple, making it the richest domestic event on the European Tour. But Johann Rupert, chief executive of the sponsors' parent company, explained: "It will not cost us much more. You will understand there are appearance fees and, as a traditionalist, I feel it is wrong they are sometimes bigger than the prize money. If the top players don't want to come next year, fine, we are going to have fun celebrating links golf."

The new tournament will feature each pro teaming up with an amateur for the week over the Old Course, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns, a new layout just outside St Andrews. "It is spectacularly beautiful and a true links course, a blend of Ballybunion, Royal Dornoch and perhaps a bit of Pebble Beach," Rupert said.

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