Rampaging Goosen sets score record

South African Retief Goosen rewrote the record books of the World Match Play Championship when he overran American Jeff Maggert 12 and 11 in their rain-hit first-round showdown at Wentworth on Thursday.

The previous biggest winning margin of 11 and 10 was set by Mark O’Meara in 1998 when he crushed Vijay Singh.

“I got off to a good start and got some momentum going, but he just could not seem to get going and whenever you fall that far behind, it gets more and more difficult with every passing hole to get back into things,” said Goosen, the world number five.

Maggert would have had to set a record-breaking comeback in the championship to win.

The previous biggest fight-back was by Gary Player in 1965 when he was seven down to Tony Lema after 19 holes and came back to win on the 37th.

The early win was good news for Goosen as heavy rain made conditions miserable. Maggert’s gloom was lifted by the fact that he pocketed £60 000 pounds for his day’s work—the guaranteed prize money for all first-round losers.

Torrential overnight rain had delayed the start of the championship by two-and-a-half hours as ground staff fought furiously to get rid of the lying water.

Eventually, there was a splash of sunshine but it was short-lived. The rains returned in the afternoon and greenstaff were forced to try and “squeeze” off excess water between putts.

The delays meant that seven of the eight groups have to come back early on Friday morning to finish their 36-hole first-round matches.

While Goosen was wreaking havoc, fellow countryman Ernie Els was looking too strong for Scotland’s Scott Drummond.

Els, aiming for a record-breaking sixth match-play title, found himself one down right at the start when he hooked his drive sharp left, just managing to avoid the refreshment tent.

Drummond, who won the PGA Championship at Wentworth earlier in the year, went two up after seven holes but Els began fighting back, and as they reached the halfway stage had pulled back to only one down and everything to play for.

Then Els’s magic at Wentworth began to show as he quickly wiped out the one-hole deficit and went into a three holes lead after 28 holes.

He was aided by some sensational putting.
Drummond refused to fold and when play was halted Els was two-up with two to play.

World number one Singh, who is seeded to meet Els in Sunday’s final for the £1-million first prize, the highest in golf, was finding it tough going against European Ryder Cup captain Bernhard Langer.

Langer was two up after 26, leaving Singh plenty to fight for on Friday.

Canadian Mike Weir was battling Frenchman Thomas Levet. The former Masters champion went one down at the first hole but slowly began putting the pressure on Levet and stood at two up after 14.

But Levet got one back and reached the halfway mark only one down.

“It was kind of a classic match-play contest. Neither of us played that well, but then again neither of us played that badly,” said Levet.

After lunch, Weir stretched his lead to two but Levet would not go away and pulled one back at the 25th hole. He then levelled the match with four holes to finish on Friday.

Lee Westwood, who won this championship in 1999, and reigning Open champion Todd Hamilton were having a massive struggle.

Westwood went into lunch with a one-shot lead but Hamilton got it back on the first hole of the afternoon.

But the Englishman carded two birdies in the next two holes to go two up after 22 holes and hold his biggest advantage of the day.

He finished the afternoon three-up after 29 holes. The winner plays Goosen.

Miguel Angel Jimenez was quickly two up over Steve Flesch but the American left-hander fought back to stand all square with still 10 holes to finish.

South Korean KJ Choi found himself playing catch-up with Angel Cabrera right from the start.

The Argentinian moved three ahead at the 13th. Choi managed to grab two back but finished the day still one down with three holes left.

Ireland’s Padraig Harrington finished the day all square over American Ryder Cup player Chris Riley after 32 holes.

“It’s going to be long day,” said a weary Harrington at the lunch break. “It’s been a tough battle already and I can see this going all the way.”

And so it was proving as the lead switched to and fro through the afternoon.—Sapa-AFP

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