Westner eclipses the Irish

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The Independent Online
Rainy skies, the colour of the old grey town, put paid to any chance of seeing the solar eclipse, even if it was visible this far north. But the final day of group qualifying at the Alfred Dunhill Cup did see an eclipse of Irish hearts.

Ireland and South Africa were in a straight fight to win Group Three and a piece of improvisation of a Scottish nature by Wayne Westner denied the talented trio of Irish youngsters a place in this morning's semi-finals. Instead, South Africa will play New Zealand, while America face Sweden. The final is later this afternoon when America could claim a record third win, Sweden may add to their 1991 success, or South Africa or the Kiwis could win for the first time.

Paul McGinley did the hard work for Ireland by beating Ernie Els by two strokes after shooting a three-under 69. Darren Clarke was three ahead of Retief Goosen after 12 holes but somehow contrived to be two behind three holes later. Goosen, who had lost both his previous matches, dropped a shot at the 17th and Clarke holed from 13 feet at the last to tie.

Clarke was first to putt at the play-off hole, his 20-footer swinging off line at the last moment. "The ball looked as if it could not miss two feet from the hole," he said.

Goosen, with almost the identical putt, holed. At about the same moment, Westner, having birdied the 16th to square his match with Padraig Harrington, faced his second shot from the rough at the 17th. He had 192 yards to the green, needing to avoid the huge Road Hole bunker, and played a sublime low runner with draw, which took the contours of the green and finished three feet from the flag.

"It was one of those Scottish shots, keeping it low and letting it run up," Westner said of his five-iron approach. "There was quite a lot of luck involved."

One behind playing the last, Harrington could have forced a play-off but his birdie putt stayed three inches outside the cup. "Wayne's shot at the 17th won us the match," Els said.

The Irish players could not hide their disappointment. "You are either destined to win in this tournament or not. We played well and it took very good golf to beat us," McGinley said.

For the third year running Australia lost on the third day to fail to qualify. In fact, they only needed one win to go through so even when New Zealand took the first two matches by some distance, there was hope. Greg Norman birdied the 15th and 17th, with a five-iron to three feet, and when Nobilo bogeyed the hole, the Kiwi was only one ahead.

Following his nine-shot win over the world No 1 in 1990, Nobilo wedged in to a foot at the last to clinch another win 66-68. "It was a wonderful shot by Frank which closed the door," Norman said. The Kiwis may have got inspiration by eating in an Indian restaurant on Friday night, but the team that shocked Scotland could not recapture the magic, losing 3- 0 to Sweden. As for the defending champions, they went down to Zimbabwe 2-1 with Colin Montgomerie completing an ignominious week by losing his third game.

The Swedes have dropped only one individual point so far and are undaunted by being Europe's only representatives today despite not fielding their strongest side. "In matchplay you don't have to be the No 1 in the world to win," Jarmo Sandelin said.

America qualified by beating Spain 3-0. Mark O'Meara shot a 67 to beat Miguel Jimenez by one, but Phil Mickelson's 66 was 11 shots too good for Ignacio Garrido. "Sweden are obviously playing well," Mickelson said. "We are going to have our work cut out in the morning."