Ames takes a liking to unfriendly course

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The Independent Online
Robert Allenby's one shot on the first day of the Volvo Masters, which could be worth pounds 73,000, was not the most lucrative of the day. Colin Montgomerie teed off and assured himself of a bonus of pounds 150,000 for topping the money list. Unlike the Australian, he played all Valderrama's 18 holes.

A level par 71, a figure he admitted being fortunate to score, was not the best opening in his search to win the pounds 150,000 first prize and become the first man to pass pounds 1m in a season's earnings. The venue for next year's Ryder Cup was as miserly as ever and only 10 of the 65 players who remain beat par. Stephen Ames, who won the B&H International at The Oxfordshire, led with a four-under 67 by one from Gordon Brand Jnr and Paul Curry.

There were plenty of incidents. Padraig Harrington, the young Irishman, holed in one with a seven-iron at the 173-yard third hole in his 69. Seve Ballesteros, the Ryder Cup captain, had a triple bogey six at the 12th and finished with two bogeys in a 74. Ian Woosnam, going for an acorn on the way from the fifth green to the sixth tee, broke his putter.

Ames found battling the course easier than battling his swing faults. The last time he was here, in 1993, he decided to go home after three rounds. "I didn't think much of the course," he said. "I am a better striker of the ball now." This he demonstrated by playing the back nine in 32, requiring no putt of more than 12 feet for his four birdies.

Brand admitted improvement after discarding the advice of coaches, or "spanners", as he called them.

The morning's inglorious start overshadowed everything else. Fortunately, David Howell, the unfortunate who was drawn with Allenby, understood the story. Given all the fuss on the first tee, Howell kept his composure to birdie the hole. "It didn't bother me," Howell said. His 72 was recorded by a marker.

Allenby himself played the straightest of bats to suggestions that the morning's performance should have been avoided. "The rules are written," he said. "If you break them for one person, you have to break them for everyone. I guess it comes down to the PGA and the sponsors. Once I knew the rule I was always going to come over."

Allenby would not have been on the Costa del Sol last month, when he crashed at a roundabout, had he not twisted his ankle at the Loch Lomond Invitational. As well as breaking his sternum in the crash, he had to have 15 stitches in his head, six in his top lip and suffered severe bruising. "They thought I had broken my neck and had brain damage," he added. "I still feel sore and it is worse in the morning when I wake up. It could take up to five months to heal.

"Once I am 100 per cent fit, having come so close to death, I am determined to come back bigger and better. I've worked very, very hard this year. By finishing as high as I can, I might get into the US Masters. It would be a dream to play at Augusta."

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