Will Singh have last belly-laugh on uneasy Els?
Sunday 30 May 2004
On the face of it, there isn't much Ernie Els shouldn't be able to take in that huge, loping stride of his - burns, bunkers, brooks, the odd shorter par three. Except that the player who is usually the jolliest giant on the green has had a touch of red about his countenance here this week as he has slipped in, out and back into contention. And it's not just that damn implement known as the belly putter that's given him a gutfull.
There is also the little matter of Vijay Singh, the gangly Fijian, referred to recently by Els as "probably the best golfer in the world", who ironically was one of the pioneers of the extended putting implement and who has since led the ever-swelling chorus of belly-laughers. Singh has been using his telescopic weapon to such devastating effect recently that although everyone knows that Els is the only real challenger to the Tiger Woods hegemony, the South African finds himself demoted to No 3 in the world rankings.
This must be immensely dispiriting, because if nobody will remember who finished second to such a sporting force then what chance will third ever have? But what is the Big Uneasy supposed to do? Already this season he has a runners-up rosette in the year's first major as well as two victories and some £1.5m in earnings.
The problem is that whatever he has done, Singh has done a whole lot better and more consistently. Some £3m has been amounted on the American Tour this campaign, in which Singh already has three wins. It has been no flash in the pan-Americans, either, as last year he topped the PGA Tour Order of Merit with nigh on £5m and four victories. If Woods didn't have enough to worry about as he struggles to find tournament-winning form, then the sight of Singh with trophy in hand seemingly every other week would not have helped his sleeping patterns.
Neither would it done much for Els, who has sought solace in his garden this week. That his back lawn happens to be the West Course at Wentworth and that Singh was in attendance gave the 34-year-old the perfect opportunity to leapfrog his burgeoning nemesis in the rankings. All Els had to do was win his first PGA Championship and pray that Singh finished out of the top five.
Except it was never going to be as simple as that. Els's erratic game of the week before in Germany has continued to blight him, and Singh was never going to be too far off the money. As a sprightly 41-year-old, Singh has long since assisted the disproving of golf being a young man's game and yesterday he and Miguel Angel Jimenez - 43 and in the full bloom of his own Indian summer - were out to rubber-stamp the benefit of experience once again.
Not that there were many in the galleries to see the pair, as most had joined the throng ahead who were witnessing Nick Faldo's rebirth on the PGA leaderboard. But this would have suited the pair perfectly as one thing they could never be accused of being is spotlight junkies.
Indeed the only demonstrative thing about Jimenez - apart from the form that makes him second on the European Order of Merit - is the Bazil Brushesque shock of ginger that emerges from the back of his cap. Otherwise it was all scowls as the spills took precedence over the thrills as both struggled to stay in touch.
In the event Singh squeezed out two birdies on the final par fives to stay on the outskirts of the shadow of the leaders with a 71, with Jimenez one ahead on seven under par after a 70. Meanwhile, Els was recovering from his own tortures with an eagle-birdie finish to stay in the championship hunt after a 72 for nine under. The No 2 tag is still there for the taking.
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