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Westwood Stands Between Els and Record at Wentworth Club

Ernie Els
South Africa’s Ernie Els will aim to celebrate his 35th birthday on Sunday by winning a record sixth HSBC World Match Play title at Wentworth Club and collecting the not insubstantial present of golf's biggest cheque of £1million for the second successive year.

The World Number Two established another record in his 5 and 4 semi-final victory over Ireland’s Padraig Harrington when he qualified for his seventh final in 11 years and Els now stands just 36 holes away from surpassing the record number of titles which he currently shares with Seve Ballesteros and Gary Player.

Els will face England’s Lee Westwood, who fought off a defiant Miguel Angel Jiménez of Spain on the final green of the second semi-final to tee up an intriguing contest. At the end of three long, arduous days, Els is 21 under par while Westwood is the form horse on 32 under.

The South African has only ever lost four matches round the West Course, and two of them have been against Westwood, in 1998 and again in the 2000 semi-final when the Englishman went on to lift the title.

Els showed little mercy to Padraig Harrington, although the Irishman was handicapped by the bruised and battered thumb which he injured smashing it against a tree trunk on Friday, and admitted that as he was practising at the start of the day it was 50-50 whether he even teed off.

"There isn't any feel - it isn't there - and in fairness I don't feel like I have the game to do anything," he said."I can't make things happen. I'm doing well for a man with one hand - or rather one thumb!"

Els, despite struggling to get the pace right on the greens, went four up after 14 and after bogeying the next two with fivefoot misses, regained control either side of the lunch interval. A 15foot putt at the 29th to put him four up again was the crucial moment.

He said: “I’m just delighted to get to the final. It’s been seven times now and it’s nice. It’s one thing to reach the final but another thing to win it and I might as well try and do that now that I am here!

“I guess I’ve lost twice to Lee in this event and I am sure he’s going to go into the final with a lot of confidence. He’s obviously playing good golf and I’ve just got to go out there and beat him.”

1113146]Westwood is the only player to have beaten Els twice in the HSBC World Match Play. In 1998 he came from two down with eight to play to win 2 and 1 and two years later, en route to taking the trophy for the only time, he left it even later. Two down with three left, he birdied them all.

At one stage Westwood was five up on Jiménez and cruising but the Spanish Ryder Cup is nothing if not a fighter. At lunch, having just won the 18th to get back to three down, he admitted that fatigue was setting in and he “felt as if my two legs are going in different directions”.

However, in the heat of battle, Jiménez forgot about his tiredness and set about reducing Westwood’s lead. He won the 11th, 12th (with an eagle), 13th and 16th, thanks to a wonderful approach, to get within one hole of Westwood. However at the last, Westwood struck a perfect drive and second shot to the heart of the green and two putted for the match.

It was a tremendous tussle – one which Westwood described as one of his best over the West Course. He then looked forward to a re-match with Els, saying: “I do have a good record against Ernie here and I’m looking forward to the final. I reckon we’ll have a good game.”

Westwood, struggling with a heavy head cold, had no difficulties with his golf game and added: “Even at five up I knew it wasn’t over. The tenth was probably the key when I chipped in after he hit it close. At the 16th he hit it stone dead and that put the pressure on me to get the job done.”

Now there are only two players from the original 16 left – and the battle of the North and South Hemispheres promises to be one of the best of an exciting week.


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