1996: The shape of things to come

Golf: Comeback time for Ballesteros
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The Independent Online
Seve Ballesteros celebrates his 39th birthday in April, two days before the start of the Masters in Augusta and by then the Spaniard should have a clearer idea of whether he is still a major player or merely a Ryder Cup captain in waiting.

Ballesteros took a five-month sabbatical after Europe retained the Cup last September and the question is: can he defy the old sporting adage that they never come back? And will his dodgy back come back?

The good news for Ballesteros is that not only is Augusta National a happy hunting ground but the 125th Open in mid-July is at Royal Lytham and St Annes, where he won in 1979 and 1988.

The bad news is that that was his last major triumph. Ballesteros is expected to replace Bernard Gallacher as Ryder Cup captain for the next match in Valderrama in 1997. It is possible, although unlikely, for him to be a playing captain. Tom Kite, already named as the US captain, has said he would like to combine both roles.

Meanwhile, the Solheim Cup provides Europe's women golfers with an outstanding chance of upsetting the Americans at St Pierre, Chepstow, in September. In the Swede Annika Sorenstam, who achieved the unique double last season of finishing top of the Order of Merit in the United States and Europe, and Laura Davies, Europe has the world's two best players.

Qualification for the Ryder Cup team begins with the European Masters in Switzerland in August but the European Tour gets under way this month with the Johnnie Walker Classic in Singapore and swings through Australia and South Africa before actually getting to Europe.

While Faldo, resident in Florida, contemplates an expensive divorce Colin Montgomerie bids to win the Order of Merit for the fourth year in a row. He would gladly swap that,though, for the first major title of his career.

A landmark that will be badly missed in the new year, although not by the players, is St Mellion. The course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, has been replaced as the venue for the Benson and Hedges International, by the Oxfordshire at Thame. The Oxfordshire is new, swish and plush; St Mellion is narrow and mean and carved out of the Cornish hills.

PREDICTION: John Daly to win the US Masters.