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How to make a Big Easy million
Autumn glory expressed itself in a blaze of colours in Virginia Waters' trees all along the sweeping drives of the Wentworth estate and the fairways of the West Course.

The glistening chrome-plated metal work, fore and aft on the 4-wheeled drive vehicles, designed to deflect charging rhinos and recalcitrant elephants, jars in contrast to the rural idyll. This is a place of great beauty and bland anonymity, of gracious sophistication and vulgar banality. No better place exists to host a tournament carrying a £1m first prize with a field of crushing mediocrity.

It was somehow fitting that the main topic of conversation in the gaggle of spectators behind the ropes at the driving range on Thursday morning should have been about determining who was who of the eight players warming up. A lady with a Hermes scarf worn unfashionably on her head and tied below the chin announced that the only one she recognised was Vijay Singh.

A gent in a sports jacket made of heather roots identified them all for the assembly but mistook Bjorn for Els and managed to include Lee Westwood and Phillip Price. If nothing else, it was certainly great entertainment.

But what transpired of the golf in the course of the day was not great entertainment. Not unexpectedly, Alex Cejka was soundly beaten by Vijay Singh, 8&7. It was a game reminiscent of Chip Beck's humiliation at the hands of Ballesteros, 9&8, the main difference was that Ballesteros played superb golf in 1989 to thump Beck.

Bjorn, meanwhile, was three down to Len Mattiace before rallying to win 4&3. He put his win down to a lunchtime session with Mr Vanstiphout, his sports psychologist, but from what I saw, Mattiace made a more significant contribution to Bjorn's success.

Day two, Friday, and by the end of it one had seen enough to confirm that Els was the likely tournament winner. His South African compatriot, Tim Clark took him to task, but one had the uneasy feeling that Els took the game to the 18th green rather than having to walk in from the 15th. It was Els' 34th birthday after all and he was clearly in magnanimous as well as celebratory mode.

If the Americans had pre-arranged a Saturday night flight home, they clearly forgot to tell Shaun Micheel. He tested Singh to 38 holes despite having been up most of the night escorting the local police round his rented house that a burglar had availed himself of earlier in the evening.

But Mike Weir had read the script and quietly succumbed with indifferent golf to Bjorn, 5&4.

Ben Curtis continues to impress. His golf was the best of the day, as was his demeanour in handling the press who yet refuse to believe that he is the champion golfer of the year. Curtis showed that he is every inch the champion by beating Chad Campbell some nine or 10 under par with the best golf of the week.

Ben Curtis did not reproduce his best golf on Saturday when he succumbed to Bjorn in the semi-final. Bjorn won by two holes with a nervy finish that saw the worst golf of the week. Curtis is long and straight but he is also young and naove. He repeatedly failed to capitalise on his strengths and has yet to learn matchplay golf.

The Singh versus Els semi-final was the match of the week and, had rationality prevailed, should have been the final. It started with drama and continued to generate drama throughout.

Singh rattled up birdies from the start while Els inspected the local flora in a far from easy manner. After 15 holes Singh was four up in the match but it was far from over for Els suddenly woke to the reality of his situation and won the last three holes of the morning round to sit down to lunch one down.

He emerged from lunch to continue where he had left off, winning the next five holes in succession. It took me some time to calculate that he stood on the 23rd green four up. Those late back from lunch found it impossible to believe.

Winning eight holes in succession should settle any challenge and it certainly did that. Singh scrambled halves and even won a hole but it was essentially all over. Els' name might as well have been engraved on the trophy there and then.

Sunday, and the final was an anti-climax. Bjorn is not Singh and he is certainly not in the same class as Els. He made the final memorable by having a hole-in-one at the 14th but, dormie by that time, he needed that to keep the match alive. It took only another hole with another comfortably holed long putt for Els to walk off the West Course at Wentworth World Matchplay Champion for the fifth time and £1 million richer.

I left Wentworth with memories of other five time winners, Gary Player and Seve Ballesteros. They were both there last week, doubtless with their own gut-clenching memories. What do they feel about today's £1 million pot? Neither would say very much about it but Els himself was healthily forthcoming.

'Its obscene,' he said, 'but I'm very comfortable with it.'

©    20 - OCTOBER 2003

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