Els maintains edge after birdies spree

By Phil Casey
Saturday 25 January 2003 01:00

Ernie Els justified his billing as pre-tournament favourite for the Caltex Masters yesterday. The South African fired an eagle and four birdies in his second-round 67 at the Laguna National for an eight-under-par halfway total to remain on course for a fourth consecutive win.

The Open champion, who won the Nedbank Challenge at the end of last year and the first two events on the US Tour this season, holds a one-shot lead over the defending champion Arjun Atwal of India, Atwal's compatriot Jeev Milka Singh and the Thailand-based Scot Simon Yates.

Twenty one players were unable to complete the second round due to the knock-on effect of Friday's thunderstorms which ended play early.

China's Wen-Chong Liang became the first player to be disqualified from a tournament under new rules banning "hot" drivers. Liang was found to have used a banned driver during the first two rounds.

The Mizuno 300 SII model is one of almost 150 clubs which have been deemed non-conforming by the R&A and USGA under a new rule which came into effect from 1 January 2003. The rule is designed to limit the distance the top players are hitting the ball courtesy of the "spring-like" effect off the club face.

Meanwhile, in Scottsdale, Arizona, England's Luke Donald was only three shots off the pace after the opening round of the Phoenix Open. Donald hit a six-under-par 65 and is among five players tied for fourth. The Texan Harrison Frazar leads the event after hitting a 62.

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