Golf: Baker charges to fuel his Cup ambition: Langer leads German Open

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The Independent Online
BERNHARD LANGER, one of Bernard Gallacher's cornerstones for the Ryder Cup, made a slapdash finish in the second round of the Volvo German Open here yesterday. If it was a personal affront to him, it was outstanding news to Peter Baker and anybody else who is attempting to play against the United States at The Belfry next month, either on merit or by Gallacher's vote.

Langer, on his 36th birthday, led the field at one point by six strokes and people began to wonder who would finish second. Then Langer, with what David Feherty described as 'uncharacteristic generosity', did the unthinkable. He began to drop shots. He had a bogey four on the 14th, a bogey five on the 15th and a bogey five at the 18th. Inaccurate driving, poor chipping, poor putting and this after he had had five birdies and an eagle to advance to 14 under par for the event.

Langer went out in 31, came home in 37 and after a modest 68 was suddenly within Baker's reach. The point about the German's performance is that the first prize of pounds 108,330 is still up for grabs. For Langer, third in the Ryder Cup table, the money would simply earn interest. For Baker the interest lies in a Ryder Cup place.

Baker, the 25-year-old from Wolverhampton, desperately wants to be at The Belfry and today he and Langer will be the last pair out in the third round. Baker occupies the crucial ninth place in the Cup table, the last spot that guarantees inclusion. After the way he played yesterday he seems set to consolidate his position. 'If you're paired with Langer in Germany, you know you're playing well,' Baker said. It was a fair comment because Langer invariably produces his best in the land of his fathers.

As Langer dropped shots over the back nine, Baker, playing behind him, picked them up. The winner of the Dunhill Masters and the Scandinavian Masters this season, Baker came back in 31 for a round of 66, the best of the day. He had five birdies from the 12th to the 18th and at 10 under par is one stroke behind Langer.

'My first priority was to make the cut and then build on it,' he said. 'I did that. It was a great day.' Should Baker win tomorrow, it would, of course, settle all arguments. 'It would be a hell of a way to do it,' he said. 'I can do it. I've done it before. The others know I'm there. I think the hard part is coming up.'

Feherty and Ronan Rafferty, both of whom have sipped from the Ryder Cup, are still in the great paper chase as is Sweden's Joakim Haeggman. Feherty is in joint fourth place at eight under par but when he saw Baker's name on the leaderboard he came to a rational conclusion. 'I'm unlikely to qualify even if I win,' he said. Could he be one of Gallacher's chosen few? 'If I'm called upon, I'll be ready,' Feherty said. 'It's in the lap of the captain.'

Feherty wanted to be where Baker is today - playing with Langer. 'It's nice to see what the leader of the pack is doing,' Feherty said. 'I wanted to get into the last group to put Langer off.' Langer has distractions of another kind. He is still suffering from the neck injury that stopped him in his tracks at the US Open at Baltusrol. He felt it again before the second round. 'It slightly restricted me,' he said. 'My neck's OK but not great.' Rafferty, 11th in the pecking order, is at seven under, one stroke behind two of his arch rivals, Feherty and Haeggman, and three behind Baker.

Seve Ballesteros re-confirmed his participation in the Cup after a round of 69. Nothing extraordinary by the standards of scoring around this course but the sigh of relief from the maestro was audible. It would have been embarrassing if Ballesteros, Europe's talisman, had failed to make the cut and his response, if typically erratic, was also typically flamboyant.

There were even glimpses of the old Ballesteros, or rather the younger version. 'The only thing I need to prove is in a few weeks' time,' he said. 'And I will.' Music to Gallacher's ears. 'The way I played the last nine showed that I can still play golf,' he said. The portents were decidedly gloomy when he had a double-bogey six at the second hole, slamming a three wood into the rough. He never saw the ball again and he almost repeated the shot with his provisional. However, he found his second ball, chipped to four feet and holed the putt. Ballesteros followed it with six birdies. He made the cut and today he will have Gallacher's ear.