Friday 24 November 2017

Goosen and Els set for face-off

William S Callahan

BIRDIES and eagles are still flying in the southern hemisphere as Alex Cejka gets between Retief Goosen and Ernie Els as the two South African behemoths throw down the gauntlet to each other in a fascinating rain-interrupted first round.

In Europe and North America, meanwhile, end-of-season awards are getting tossed around like snow in a blizzard, with the majority of them, understandably, drifting in Graeme McDowell's direction.

For example, US Open champion and Ryder Cup match-clincher McDowell last night was named 2010 Player of the Year by the Golf Writers' Association of America, becoming the second Irishman to win this prestigious accolade in three years following Padraig Harrington in 2008.

The Portrush phenomenon has already won the Golf Writers' Trophy on this side of the pond and shared the European Tour Player of the Year award with US PGA Champion Martin Kaymer.

According to the bookmakers, McDowell is also second favourite to another Ulsterman, legendary national hunt jockey Anthony McCoy in the race for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, which will be decided by a telephone poll of viewers in the UK tomorrow.

McCoy has never been one for blowing his own trumpet, but the British racing community is so enthused by the thought of their sport winning its first ever BBC award, that AP is odds-on (at 8/11) to win out tomorrow, with McDowell a 7/2 shot.

Golf's world No 1 Lee Westwood is rated 16/1 by the bookmakers, despite some shameless electioneering by the Englishman in a well-timed Q&A yesterday.

"There's some great candidates on the shortlist," Westwood was quoted as saying. "Tony McCoy is someone I have always admired and I was delighted when he finally won the Grand National earlier this year. Phil Taylor has dominated darts for years and Graeme McDowell has had a great year, winning the US Open.

"But I'm the undisputed world No 1 and I have done it in the era of probably the greatest player ever to have played the game, so I'm not going to talk myself down.

"Remember, too, that only 13 people have ever been the world's No 1 golfer and the man I've succeeded had dominated the game for the previous 12 years, so I would really love to win it. I just need everyone to pick up the phone and vote for me. And I promise I'll make an interesting speech."

And might this help explain his Pauline conversion to Twitter in the past month? For someone who not long ago replied "over my dead body" when asked if he'd ever tweet, Westwood's been prolific (and amusing) on Twitter, quickly building an army of 70,000 followers.

Forty three per cent (or 87) of the GWAA members who voted in the Player of the Year poll supported McDowell, putting him ahead of FedEx Cup-winner Jim Furyk (32pc, 61 votes) and US PGA champion Martin Kaymer (25pc, 51 votes). Yani Tseng finished top in the women's category and Bernhard Langer was named Senior Player of the Year.

Meanwhile, at Durban Country Club, Goosen and Cejka both were tied at the top of the leaderboard after posting superlative eight-under par rounds of 64 as the rain-interrupted first round of the South African Open concluded yesterday.


Yet spectators are looking forward with relish to a repeat this weekend of the thrilling head-to-head battle at Fancourt in 2005 between Goosen and Els, as the latter swept into contention with a polished 65 and a share of third place with talented young South African, Charl Schwartzel.

Tournament organisers plan to make half-way cut at 50 and ties after the second round today in the hope of completing 36-holes tomorrow.

Though just one outside the projected cut-line in a veritable traffic jam on one-under par, Damien McGrane played enough good golf in a rollercoaster 71 -- featuring an eagle, four birdies and five bogeys -- on a short but treacherously tight course to suggest his race is far from run. But Michael Hoey's hopes of ending the season with a flourish looked bleak after completing first-round 75.

  • MARTINA GILLEN was on course to win back her Ladies European Tour card as a three-over-par 76 on the South Course at La Manga yesterday lifted her into a tie for 27th place after three rounds of Final Qualifying.

The top-30 after tomorrow's fifth round will be awarded their credentials. Curtis Cup star Danielle McVeigh's prospects of getting into the top-50 and making today's fourth-round cut expired as an 82 yesterday consigned her to 89th place on 23-over.

Sweden's former World Amateur champion, Caroline Hedwall, romped into a six-stroke lead on six-under-par with her third-round 72 on the South Course.

South African Open,

Live, Sky Sports 3, 10.30am

Irish Independent

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