Woods holding on as Singh and Herron stay close

 

Atlanta Tiger Woods found Vijay Singh and Tim Herron were not giving up without a fight in Atlanta today - as Ernie Els moved to within touching distance of winning the European Order of Merit.

Woods, trying to make a successful defence of the American Express World Championship he won at Mount Juliet in Ireland last year, went from two ahead to four clear over the first five holes of his final round.

But then Singh, top of the US Tour money list this year and attempting to stop Woods taking that honour off him, birdied the next two holes and up ahead Herron picked up shots at the seventh and ninth. The world number one, now only two in front at nine under, then went from rough to sand and missed an eight-foot par putt on the 475-yard par-four ninth.

However, Singh also bogeyed there and Herron, suddenly finding himself only one behind, dropped a shot on the 459-yard 10th after pulling his approach wide of the target.

As a consequence Woods stood eight under and his two closest challengers six under, with a charging David Toms - seven under for the day with four to go - only three behind. Sergio Garcia mixed three birdies with two bogeys to be six behind and joint sixth.

Ireland's Padraig Harrington finished his tournament on one under after shooting a final round 66. Further down the field Darren Clarke made some amends for his lacklustre showing in previous rounds, as he shot a final day two-under to finish the tournament on 11 over.

With Els finishing with a 67 for three over and Clarke a 68 for his 11 over, the calculators were brought out to discover if that was going to be enough to take the South African across the line in the money list race.

After signing his card the Ulsterman said: "Obviously it's over now, which is disappointing." But when told it was not quite over and that come the end of the day he might still have a chance by winning both the Madrid Open and Volvo Masters - Els is not playing in either of the last two counting events - Clarke said: "If it's technically possible I'd be foolish not to try."

However, he was prepared for having to settle for the runners-up place for a third time in his career, having lost out to Colin Montgomerie in 1998 and Lee Westwood in 2000. "But Ernie deserves it more than I do. He's won more and played better over the season. I've no qualms at all.

"I've hit the ball well enough to be a lot closer to him than I am, but I couldn't turn that into scores on a consistent basis. It's the same old story. "But I'm trying to improve as a player and maybe one of these days I will win it."

A million-dollar victory in the NEC World Championship in Akron in August brought Clarke back into the picture and he was lying second with a round to go in the Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews last week. But while he fell to fourth Els climbed to second and widened the gap to over $500,000.

Els commented: "The Order of Merit is not one of the goals I've chosen on my career, but if it comes around it will be great. "I've had a good year and played well right round the world. I guess I'm almost the only player that does that."