On-song Norman leads by example : GOLF

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The Independent Online
IT WILL not have been often that the Rolling Stones and South Africa's deputy president, F W De Klerk, have helped to affect the result of a golf match, but after 30 years of isolation this country is quickly getting used to the unusual and both played a small part in the inaugural Alfred Dunhill Challenge between Southern Africa and Australasia yesterday.

Johannesburg can hardly believe its luck. Mick Jagger and Greg Norman in town for the same weekend. Jagger won comfortably spectator-wise, the Stones playing to vastly superior numbers than the Australian did at the Houghton course. But Norman was on song, if a little croaky, to win both matches and lead his jet-lagged, under-strength team into a position from which they have a semblance of a chance of creating a battle worthy of this first attempt to create a Ryder Cup lookalike in the bottom half of the world.

But they needed large supplies of the old Anzac spirit to wipe out the the effects of their disastrous start on Friday by winning four of yesterday's eight matches and levelling two. The visitors will need to win 61/2 points from today's nine singles matches. But if the Africans wobble like they did yesterday, Norman may be right in thinking that he and his colleagues have a chance. One disappointment about the first two days was that both captains avoided giving the spectators the confrontation they wanted. They changed the Ryder Cup format of selection and introduced one that means each captain knows which players he is picking against. The result has been that one captain would nominate a strong pair and the other would oppose it with one weaker. Today, however, they could not avoid the match everyone wanted to see, between the world No 1, Nick Price, and Norman, the No 2.

Gary Player, the Southern African captain, surprised us for yesterday afternoon's fourballs, when he split the successful partnership of Price and Mark McNulty in order to pair Price with David Frost, with whom he has had a long-standing rift. It was Player's recognition that they had settled their differences, but if the tension of their relationship was reduced, it was happily increased between the teams. There is nothing worse than chumminess in a match like this. Putts were being conceded on Friday that would get you killed if you suggested them in your winter league.

Yesterday, the generosity waned, lips began to purse and the banter abated. The Rolling Stones played their part when some of the Southern African team joined the 65,000 in Ellis Park stadium on Friday night. Ernie Els' eardrums were still twanging as he and Tony Johnstone failed to overcome their opponents in the first foursome. "I lost my rhythm," Els complained. Having been down in three of the foursomes after nine holes, the Australasians began to revive and we saw the first hints of big-match nerves.

It was in the final match that drama came to the African pair of Fulton Allem and Wayne Westner. They were three up at the turn against Norman and Robert Allenby and looked well in command. Young Allenby then steadied his slender shoulders over a 15-foot putt on the 11th to win the hole and begin a fight-back which ended in a victory. It was hardly spectacular golf but the stakes were creating the drama.

Norman left a putt short on the 16th and Allenby missed it. Allem then hit his tee shot into the bunker on the short 17th. Westner came out weakly which meant that they were all-square coming up the last and the drives of Norman and Westner were no more than two yards apart and surrounded by the jostling crowd full of VIPs, team- mates and captains, and a caddie car that purred up behind them carrying the burly figure of De Klerk. After Allenby made a mess of his approach shot Allem needed only to hit the green but his mid-iron fell a woeful 30 yards short. Westner thereupon stubbed a nervous wedge that also came up short. The importance of the occasion had got to them. Norman compounded the embarrassment with a brilliant chip to win the match. Suddenly the pride of the southern hemisphere know what the Yanks and the Limeys have been getting all het up about over the last 70 years.

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