Rocca's gifts demolish Crenshaw

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reports from Wentworth

Italians do not win the World Match Play - but then that is not surprising because they never play in it. Costantino Rocca is different. An honours graduate in the school of hard knocks, you would not have given Rocca a price on winning the Bergamo monthly medal after what happened to him in the Ryder Cup two years ago.

The man with the natural smile capitulated to Davis Love III over the closing holes and on the Italian's shoulders the blame for Europe's defeat at The Belfry was laid unfairly and squarely. Victims of such injustice were written off: the next thing we would see was the Rocca Horror Show. Rocca, though, is different.

The former factory worker came back for more, qualified handsomely for the re-match at Oak Hill three weeks ago and contributed three points, exorcising all ghosts. In the fourballs in Rochester on the Friday, he and Ian Woosnam defeated Ben Crenshaw and Davis Love. Yesterday it came as no surprise whatsoever when Rocca knocked out Crenshaw in the quarter- finals of the Toyota World Match Play over the Burma Road.

"He's a beautiful golfer," Crenshaw said of the Italian. He began to wax lyrical over Rocca's swing, the crispness of his iron shots etc. Crenshaw, the Masters champion, could have used any number of excuses yesterday to explain away his defeat but, to his credit, he did not.

The Texan did not mention that he arrived at Wentworth a day later than he wanted because of flight problems; he did not mention that he had passed blood in his urine and was awaiting results of a test that would reveal whether he had a kidney infection and he did not mention the antibiotics that made him look, on the first tee, like a shadow of the man that had pulled off an emotional victory in Augusta last April. "It's just not been my week," Crenshaw said. "I didn't feel bad at all." He also had a crick in the neck.

Rocca went into lunch seven up. "Even so," he said,"I did not play very good, particularly the driver. Ben did not play good." Gentle Ben shot 74 in the morning to Rocca's 67, but at least he made a fight of it in the afternoon. After going eight down, Crenshaw got it back to three but at the 30th Rocca produced an eagle three, hitting a five-iron to six feet, to Crenshaw's birdie.

"Tomorrow," Rocca said, "is the start of another tournament." Today he meets the Australian, Steve Elkington, in the second semi-final. On a day that belonged to an Indian summer, Elkington continued to give the impression that he has the Indian sign over Colin Montgomerie.

Elkington put out Big Monty 2 and 1. "I ran into the wrong man at the wrong time," Montgomerie said. "He never missed a makeable putt. Whenever I did something he seemed to have something extra." Monty has been down this road before with Elkington. In the US PGA Championship at the Riviera Club in Los Angeles in August, the Scotsman birdied the last three holes to draw level with Elkington, and was beaten at the first extra hole.

It was an excellent match yesterday and Elkington needed to play impressive golf to keep Montgomerie at bay.

Montgomerie was eight under par for the day, his opponent 10 under. "My game rose to the challenge," Elkington said. The US PGA title was his first major and it doesn't half work wonders for the confidence. Two years ago Elkington was beaten by Nick Faldo in the quarter-finals here."Mentally I didn't feel I could beat him," Elkington said. "Now I'm a different person... I'm more experienced." Rocca is also a different person from two years ago. "It should be a marvellous match," said Crenshaw who, like Montgomerie, will play in the Alfred Dunhill Cup at St Andrews next week. Crenshaw, unlike Monty, will stay at Wentworth to watch the golf. "I'm not looking forward to four days off," Monty said.

For the first time in 10 years there is no Brit in the last four. The first semi-final is between Ernie Els, who beat Montgomerie in last year's final, and Bernhard Langer. Els, who beat Lee Janzen 4 and 3, benefited from playing a practice round with Nick Price on Thursday. "He gave me some pointers," Els said. "My ball positioning was too forward." Els went out in the morning in 64 and was five up. "He didn't give my anything," said Janzen, who had two birdies and an eagle in his last six holes and still found himself heading for the hard shoulder of the Burma Road.