Axed Martin points the finger at Ballesteros

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The Independent Online
A night's sleep after learning of his exclusion from Europe's Ryder Cup team clearly did nothing for Miguel Angel Martin's disposition. At a news conference in Madrid announcing that his lawyer would appeal to the Ryder Cup Committee, Martin knew who to blame for his exclusion.

"The captain, Seve Ballesteros, is responsible for this," Martin said. In response to a question about whether he thought there was a plot to remove him and replace him with a better known player, he answered: "Yes."

Martin added: "The other players are with me. The only people who are against me are the Ryder Cup Committee and Seve Ballesteros." One of those players is believed to be Jose Maria Olazabal, the 11th man on the Cup qualifying list who has been handed Martin's place.

However, Ballesteros, here in Switzerland, where he will announce his two wild card selections after the first round of the European Masters today, denied he was involved in the decision. He said he was told of Martin's exclusion only on Tuesday night in a telephone call from Ken Schofield, the executive director of the PGA European Tour.

This contradicts a statement issued on Tuesday saying that the decision to drop Martin was taken "following close consultation between the Ryder Cup Committee and Seve Ballesteros".

"No, no, no, I was not there," Ballesteros reiterated. "I don't even have the official statement. It was up to the committee."

He added: "This is a team event, not an individual event. I am in a difficult position. The Ryder Cup is in Spain, I am Spanish, Miguel Angel Martin is Spanish and he is a good friend."

Martin called the instruction for him to play 18 holes at Valderrama yesterday to prove his fitness "sheer stupidity". He has not played since mid-July due to a wrist injury, but has been told he can resume chipping balls later this week. "They could wait until days before and name a replacement if I was not ready," he said.

"I think this is an economic problem, not personal. It's not the same having Miguel Angel Martin playing Tiger Woods as having Nick Faldo playing Tiger Woods." Martin's lawyer warned that if the appeal was unsuccessful, he would "go to the courts".

The Spaniard found support in his friend Ignacio Garrido, who will make his Ryder Cup debut at Valderrama. "If he takes this to law, he could stop the Ryder Cup being played," Garrido said. "You do not need to play golf to know if this decision is right. It's the most unfair decision I've ever heard of in golf history. If it had been Seve, or Monty, it would not have happened."

Qualifying for the Cup which starts at Valderrama on 26 September - it seems to have been going on for years - started 12 months ago at the British Masters at Collingtree Park, Northampton. The event became infamous for featuring the worst greens on the European tour - until this week. The Crans-sur-Sierre course here, which doubles as nursery ski slopes in the winter, has suffered from record rainfall in the last two months and a greenkeeper mixing a wrong batch of fertiliser. All of which has left Nick Faldo a deeply unhappy golfer.

"There is no chance of hitting two putts the same," said Faldo, who is playing in Europe for the first time since the Open. "It is totally out of your control." Faldo, who should learn today of his selection as a wild card, is under contract, like Colin Montgomerie, to play here. One of the glamorous locations on tour, the tournament has been staged here since 1939.

"This is your preparation for the Ryder Cup and this is what you are given," Faldo, who abandoned Europe for the US tour three years ago, said.

"There has to be a serious investment of money. It's a great venue up here, great fun, but if we are going to stay here, we have to bite the bullet and close the course down for a year, do all the work, then come back and see that we're going forwards. We are definitely not going forward, we are going backwards."

Temporary greens at the sixth and eighth holes will be used for the first two holes, and yesterday's pro-am, in which Ballesteros played with the Argentine president Carlos Menem, took place on the nine-hole short course across the road.

One more heavy downpour could put the tournament in doubt, but in any case it will be a week for admiring the spectacular views of the Alps rather than the putting surfaces.