Final-round duel puts friendship to test

THEY are the best of mates, but Wang Ter-chang and Hsieh Chin-sheng's friendship is likely to come under severe strain when the two Taiwanese pros lock horns in the climax of today's Perrier Hong Kong Golf Open.

Hsieh heads the field by one-stroke after a topsy-turvy, two-under-par 69 left him at 10 under for the tournament, while Wang is one stroke back on nine under par after a solid 68.

At one point yesterday, Hsieh had threatened to open up a daunting lead when he rattled in five birdies on the opening 12 holes to drop to 13 under. But, just as he did on Friday, he lost concentration on the run-in and three bogeys have given Wang and the rest of the field hope.

'I was thinking too much,' Hsieh said after his round.

Wang is hoping Hsieh's presence in the final flight today will inspire him to turn in a good performance. The last time the two players met in a similar situation was in the 1992 Philippine Open, when Wang won the title on a sudden-death play-off hole.

'When I play with him I play better. I hope I can tomorrow,' said Wang.

Perhaps mindful of Hsieh's propensity for wobbly finishes, Wang plans to bide his time and play conservatively today. 'I will play conservatively on the difficult holes but if I get chances for birdies. I will go for them,' he said.

Hsieh and Wang will be looking nervously over their shoulders at the chasing pack though, which includes two men who are proven masters at Fanling - South Korea's Kang Wook-soon and 1996 Open winner Rodrigo Cuello of the Philippines.

Kang, runner-up last year and runner-up in the 1996 Alfred Dunhill Masters, which was also staged at Fanling, is two shots off the lead after a blistering, five-under-par 66. Cuello mirrored Kang's round with an identical five-under-par score. Both Kang and Cuello share eight-under-par third place with 1996 US PGA Champion Mark Brooks and Swaziland's Paul Friedlander.

Elsewhere, there was disappointment for American John Daly, who has a mountain to climb if he is to challenge for today's title.

For the early part of his round yesterday, Daly was more 'Mild Thing' than 'Wild Thing', and the birdies he needed to mount a charge once again proved elusive.

A bogey on the second didn't help his cause but he finally got his breakthrough on the par-three eighth with a birdie.

Further birdies on 12 and 13 put him at six-under for the tournament but another bogey on the 18th saw him drop back to five under after 54 holes with an aggregate 208.

Daly's disappointment revealed itself after his round, when he left the course swiftly, declining to attend a press conference.

Overnight leader Anthony Wall would have been similarly gutted after a horror-story of a round. Wall's challenge wilted over the course of a deeply demoralising opening three holes.

The trend for Wall's round was set with his tee-shot on the tricky 424-yard, par-four opening hole, which plopped into the drainage ditch adjacent to the fairway.

Dropping out of the trouble, his third shot crashed into the trees, leaving him with little option but to punch out a low shot well short of the green. He chipped on and two-putted for a triple-bogey seven.

He parred the par-three second comfortably enough, but his tee shot on the third went hurtling into the woods on the left-hand side of the fairway and he was forced to drop again, which again left him struggling to save par.

He didn't, and in the space of three holes, Wall's score had gone from nine-under to five under. He eventually finished with a six-over-par 77, leaving him tied with three others in joint 33rd position on three under.

On the local front, Derek Fung was Hong Kong's best finisher and is four under after a one-over-par 72.

Results, tee-off times, Page 13 woobygst Rob Woollard Hong Kong Open