Ballesteros in retreat

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The Independent Online

By Tim Glover

in Rabat

IT IS NOT true that there is only one Ballesteros. As Seve made his apologies and left the Moroccan Open, his brother Vicente attempted to fill the great man's shoes. A clinic and exhibition game were held at the Royal Dar Es Salam course here yesterday with Vicente the star attraction.

A cynic would suggest that this was some form of compensation for Seve not justifying his appearance money here. When Ballesteros missed the halfway cut, he apologised to the people of Morocco and promptly boarded a plane for his next examination, the Desert Classic in Dubai, which starts on Thursday.

Ballesteros, who took a self-enforced break from the game following the last Ryder Cup match in America in September, shot 78 and 79 and only eight players were worse off. He said he would practice in the Persian Gulf, leaving Vicente to entertain the small number of spectators who have attended the championship here. Perhaps Seve should have stayed on and learnt a few trick-shots from his brother. What the clinic should have included was a version of the Hollies classic: "He Ain't Seve, He's My Brother".

It has not been a good week for Europe's new Ryder Cup captain. Ballesteros took his sabbatical because he was fed up with not being able to hit a fairway, and five months of inactivity have, on the evidence here, solved nothing. He still has trouble hitting a fairway and can barely find the middle of the club.

Ballesteros has another problem on the horizon. Joey Jones, who briefly carried the Spaniard's bag last season, is suing him for breach of contract. Jones, a Liverpudlian, gave up a golf catering business when he was asked to caddie for Ballesteros, but despite a victory in the Spanish Open the partnership survived only five tournaments.

Jones claims that Ballesteros promised him employment for a year and that he is also owed money. For their part, Ballesteros's office says the partnership was terminated because Jones was too nervous on the tee. Ballesteros has since employed two different caddies.

Meanwhile, Peter Hedblom, a clear leader at nine under par going into the third round, was often in trouble yesterday but still emerged with a four-stroke advantage going into the final round. Hedblom, seeking his maiden victory, shot 74, and at seven under par for the championship he leads from the Scot Raymond Russell, the Zimbabwean Tony Johnstone and the Argentine Eduardo Romero, all of whom are on three under.

Ballesteros could hardly have chosen a more demanding test for his comeback. The course is extremely long, and yesterday the players had to counter the additional handicap of a stiff breeze. Russell, who played in the Walker Cup in 1993, shot 70, as did Johnstone while Romero had a 67, the round of the day.

Hedblom, who had hardly put a foot wrong in the first two rounds, found the third a completely new experience. "It was a struggle all the way," he said. Not quite all the way. He made a birdie on the 18th which helped him to restore the status quo. "it made the whole round seem a lot better," he said. "I've never led a tournament before. I'll take everything as a learning experience."

Ian Woosnam, seven strokes off the lead, went to the turn in 32 but lost it on the back nine. "I was up and down like a yo-yo," Woosnam said, before joining the other Ballesteros in earning some extra-curricular income.