Scotland, England and Ireland all crashed out of the 15th Alfred Dunhill Cup at St.Andrews as last year’s finalists, South Africa and Spain, produced stunning performances to set up a re-match in the semi-finals on this occasion.
Spain beat Ireland 2-1 in the last round of group matches after an epic struggle which ebbed and flowed all morning. England were trounced 3-0 by the defending champions, South Africa, while Scotland tumbled out after a 2-1 defeat by Australia.
The Spaniards, who lost 3-0 to a rampant South African team in the final twelve months ago, appeared dead and buried as Ireland’s trio conjured up some devastating golf over the Old Course in the final group match.
Both sides knew that victory would result in qualification from Group Four, and it took some Spanish inspiration – particularly from teenager Sergio Garcia – to turn the table on the Irish.
Paul McGinley, helped by six birdies in a row, beat Jose Maria Olazabal 68-70 and with Darren Clarke three ahead with three to play against Garcia and Padraig Harrington was three in front of Miguel Angel Jimenez with five to play, the 1988 champions seemed set fair for a place in the last four.
However the famous Old Course bared her teeth as Clarke, at one point seven under par, bogeyed the 14th and 16th and double bogeyed the 17th. Garcia, who narrowly missed his three at the 17th, holed from 12 feet at the 18th for an unlikely point.
Jimenez also fought back, birdieing the 16th and making a 10 footer on the last to tie Harrington 69-69. At the first extra hole it was Jimenez who struck the decisive blow by sinking a 14 footer for a birdie three to secure a thrilling victory.
In Group Three, South Africa were always in control of the decisive qualifier. Ernie Els was out in 31 and birdied the 11th and 12th on his way to beating a plucky David Howell 67-69.
David Frost edged home 71-72 against Mark James, who had a putt to take the tie into extra time, while a double bogey at the 17th cost Lee Westwood any hope of catching Retief Goosen.
Now the two teams who contested last year’s final meet again, but this time bidding for a place in the final – and this time Olazabal and Jimenez have a additional weapon to their armoury in Garcia, who has recorded three successive 67s around the Old Course.
Australia reached the semi-finals in Group Two after beating Scotland 2-1, to squeeze out Japan who recorded an identical scoreline against Paraguay. Open champion Paul Lawrie gave the Scots an outside chance by beating Peter O’Malley 71-73, but the home nation knew they needed a 3-0 clean sweep to succeed.
Craig Parry prevented that happening by holing from 15 feet for a birdie at the last to beat Sam Torrance by two shots, while Stephen Leaney was in top form, defeating Gary Orr 67-70.
Sweden will play Australia after a 2-1 win over the No.1 seeds, the United States, who finish bottom of Group 1. The Swedes’ only loser was Patrik Sjoland, who went down 69-73 to Mark O’Meara, but Gabriel Hjertstedt overcame US Open champion Payne Stewart 69-74 and Jarmo Sandelin gained a measure of revenge for the Ryder Cup when he came through strongly against Tom Lehman, winning 71-74.
New Zealand beat Italy 2-1, but had five individual victories as opposed to the Swedes’ six, and had to accept second place.