Comeback on course for Olazabal

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The Independent Online
Ever since the Ryder Cup qualifying process started in September, it has been difficult to evaluate the largely academic question of whether Seve Ballesteros or Jose Maria Olazabal was more likely to make the European team this year. Two days into Olazabal's comeback after 18 month's absence due to a foot injury and it is fairly clear.

Despite a triple-bogey eight at the 18th (it was that sort of day - there were six eights and two nines), Olazabal shot a 74 in the second round of the Dubai Desert Classic to be one under par. Ballesteros shot an 84 to be 15 shots worse. Olly will be here for the weekend; Seve will not.

Being in the middle of the desert, the Emirates course is somewhat exposed when a strong wind blows and anything under par yesterday was a fine effort.

Olazabal, in his first tournament since September '95, would have achieved that with a par at the 18th. Having started at the 10th, he was five under when he pulled his drive at the par-five and took two more to get back to the fairway.

Then he faced a 130-yard shot over the water to the green but did not make it. "I tried a punchy seven-iron but it flew above the tents and the wind took it," Olazabal said.

"Apart from that hole, it was a good round. I will ask the sponsors to let me play 17 holes tomorrow because it felt like 19 today, but I am just happy to be playing on the weekend."

That success is in contrast to his countryman, who has failed to make the cut for the third time in three attempts this year. Seve's eventful round contained one birdie, nine bogeys and two double-bogeys. "It's got to be killing him," Greg Norman said. The world No 1 once faced himself in the mirror when the victories dried up in the early 1990s, but says what the Spaniard is suffering is worse.

"I would be thinking about walking away if I was shooting 84s," Norman said. "You bleed for Seve and for Ian Baker-Finch. Seve is an inspiration to be around. He still has that aura, even for me. Certain individuals have it, like Nelson Mandela, George Bush and Bill Clinton."

Norman showed his class yesterday with birdies at the two hardest holes on the course, the 434-yard uphill eighth and the 463-yard ninth, both playing against the wind. The Australian's 68 was only one outside Ian Woosnam's best round of the day that took the Welshman into joint second with the broomhandle-wielding Bernhard Langer.

They were both two shots behind Spain's Domingo Hospital. While his co- leader overnight, Colin Montgomerie, played better but stayed at seven under, Hospital played worse and got to 10 under with a 69. An occasional commercial pilot, the secret to Hospital's success has been to leave the driver given to him by Ballesteros at home, and put the putter given to him by Olazabal in his bag. The result has been 28 and 27 putts on the first two days and the chance to fly into uncharted airspace over the weekend.