Sun, Oct 19, 2003 - Page 24 News List

Ernie Els still in the hunt for £1-million prize in match play

AP , VIRGINIA WATER, ENGLAND

Ernie Els will have a record-tying fifth World Match Play title in view in Saturday's semifinals against Vijay Singh.

Thomas Bjorn will have another focus in his match against Ben Curtis, the player who beat him out of the British Open three months ago.

Els, the defending champion, defeated fellow South African Tim Clark 2 up on Friday in their 36-hole match on the West Course at Wentworth.

In the other quarterfinals: Vijay Singh defeated Shaun Micheel 1 up on the second sudden-death playoff hole -- the 38th; Curtis beat Chad Campbell 5 and 3; Bjorn defeated Masters Champion Mike Weir 5 and 4.

Els, who turned 34 on Friday, was five holes ahead after 25 -- and almost blew it.

"I've been in this movie before where I tried and tried and couldn't close a guy out," Els said.

Up by two after the first 18, birdies on 5, 6 and 7 on the second 18 gave Els the five-hole edge.

But Clark, thanks to a couple of Els tee shots on 13 and 15 that found the trees, came back and won four straight holes: 13 with a par, 14 with a 1.8 birdie, 15 with a 3m birdie and 16 with a 1.5 putt.

Els saved himself by halving the 17th and winning the final hole to stay alive for the £1-million (US$1.67 million) first prize.

"He [Clark] showed so much character coming down the stretch today," Els said. "I had him five down. I don't think I missed a shot until I hit that lovely tee shot on 13 into the bush."

Clark was slow starting but quick finishing.

"I began to feel a bit more comfortable on the last few holes, but it was always going to be too late by then."

Bjorn says there's no revenge on his mind facing Curtis.

Three months ago, Bjorn led the British Open by two strokes with three to play and gave it away with three shots to escape a deep bunker on the 16th. At the end, Curtis won by one stroke over Bjorn and Singh.

"It's long gone for me," Bjorn said. "It was in July. We're in October now."

"I lost it to Ben Curtis. It could have been Tiger Woods. It could have been anybody and I would have felt the same because I had every chance of winning that Open. I don't have any unfinished business with Ben Curtis at all."

Curtis shared lunch Friday with Bjorn.

"Obviously Thomas has played well over two days so, if I don't have my A game, I'm going to be going home tomorrow," Curtis said.

Curtis led Campbell by one hole after 18 and upped it to two holes with a 5m birdie on No. 8 -- the 26th. He pulled away with two birdies in four holes as Campbell made two bogeys. Curtis won the 15th with a birdie to close out the match.

In Bjorn's match, Weir fought back to square on No. 10 after falling behind by two over the first four holes. Bjorn regained the two-hole lead by taking the 11th with a 9-iron approach to 1m. He birdied 14 to restore his lead to two and went three ahead when Weir bogeyed the 17th.

Bjorn stretched his lead to six holes as Weir bogeyed No. 8 -- the 26th -- and eliminated the Canadian with a 2m birdieon 14.

Singh took what Micheel called a "match of attrition," winning with a short par putt on the par-3 No. 2 after Micheel two-putted from 2.5m.

Micheel said he lost about US$2,000 and credit cards when the house he was staying in on the Wentworth estate was burgled late Thursday. He said he went to sleep about 3:30am Friday, but didn't blame fatigue.

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