At no stage this year has Baker looked like adding to his inspired performance in the 1993 match at The Belfry. In his first 22 events, his best result was a tie for 25th place and he missed 12 cuts. Then he went to the Scandinavian Masters.
There, the 29-year-old Midlander finished third. "All I was trying to do was get my card for next year," Baker said. "I had to have the week off after that. I was burnt out."
Baker returned last week at the European Open and finished second, lifting him from 57th in the Ryder Cup table prior to going to Sweden to 20th. A victory at the BMW International, which would complete a natural progression, could enable him to qualify automatically.
An opening 64, eight under par, was the perfect start. "This is all a bonus. The Ryder Cup was not on my mind at all, but to have a chance going into the final tournament is great," Baker added.
The reason is his work with Bill Ferguson, the coach who came to prominence due to his success with Colin Montgomerie and Ian Woosnam. "I am just doing everything better," Baker said.
His fortune was in teeing off in perfect conditions early in the morning, when his round was matched by Carl Watts, whose back nine consisted of eight birdies and a bogey, and two Swedes, Peter Hedblom and Patrik Sjoland. Wayne Westner later equalled the score, finishing his round in the wind and rain of a storm that delayed play for an hour, after which the Frenchman Fabrice Tarnaud returned to take the lead at nine under.
The low scoring makes it hard to evaluate the first-round scores of those vying for the last automatic places in the 12-man team. Jose Maria Olazabal had a 67 in the morning, but Padraig Harrington later battled the elements to finish birdie-eagle for a 66.
"On this course, that was nothing special," Olazabal said. The level pars of Ignacio Garrido and Joakim Haeggman left them a long way behind, although in the case of the former it should not matter. Sam Torrance's 75, in front of Europe's captain, Seve Ballesteros, cannot have done his chances any good. The third member of the group, Paul Broadhurst, scored a 68.
Some courses may bring the cream to the top, but the Munchen Nord club, at Eichenried, brings out the worms, or at least it did in a mass eruption last weekend. This is not the usual diet that Montgomerie expects. "There has to be one course which is the easiest on the tour," said Monty, who shot a 65, "and this is it."
He gave his analysis of the test presented by the course: "It is not the longest, the rough is not severe, it's flat, the greens are rolling nicely. My score was three under a par of 68." Ernie Els, a respectful visitor from overseas who scored a 67, was reluctant to commit himself before saying: "It's not the most difficult I've ever played." A comparison with Winged Foot, where the American Ryder Cup qualifying ended two weeks ago, would be that between a BMW and a Lada.
There were only slightly more scores over par than there were under par at the USPGA Championship and even Ballesteros, whose playing is subsidiary to his captaincy at the moment, went 13 holes before his first bogey and finished under par. All of which makes Ralf Berhorst's 86 one of the poorer efforts of his professional career. This is not a good week for the German. He is sponsored by Audi.
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