Golf: Ballesteros announces new intent

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The Independent Online
COLIN MONTGOMERIE yesterday failed to outscore Seve Ballesteros but this unusual occurrence could not have left the Scot happier. Both men have dominated European golf in their own times and their own ways, and both scored seven-under 65s in the third round of the Volvo PGA Championship.

Montgomerie was on the first green when the biggest cheer of the day went up for Ballesteros completing his lowest round of the year by three strokes. "He is the most talented and charismatic golfer there has ever been," Montgomerie said.

At the time, Ballesteros shared the lead with overnight leader Michael Jonzon. When the Swede later bogeyed the first, Seve was the outright leader. The moment did not last, as Montgomerie charged out in front, but that did not diminish the magic. "Seeing his name on a leaderboard does funny things to you," added Monty. "You know anything can and will happen."

Ballesteros has not won since the Spanish Open in 1995 but like the keen cyclist he is, Seve is confident he has not forgotten how to do it. He was making no promises, though. "I don't like to sell the skin before I kill the rabbit," he said.

After finishing at eight under, Ballesteros said he would take 11 under as a winning score. But Montgomerie, who would have been further ahead had he not played the last three holes in level par instead of the four under of Saturday, has already reached that mark. In his usual emphatic manner, he declared he required a 68 to reach 15 under to win.

Dean Robertson, a fellow Scot, is one shot behind with Mats Hallberg after finishing five birdies in a row, but Ernie Els is lurking at nine under after his third successive 69. "Ernie is always there, he's the world No1," Montgomerie said. "But Seve will get the headlines and he deserves it. The European Tour needs Seve and we've missed him.

"The Ryder Cup captaincy took any awful lot out of him. It took over his game and his whole life. It meant so much to him to be captain and to win."

At the European Tour dinner last Wednesday night, Montgomerie present Ballesteros with a memento from the Ryder Cup team for his efforts as captain at Valderrama. Pausing only to praise Monty's record of five Order of Merit titles in a row, and to beg someone to stop the Scot equalling his own overall tally of six, Ballesteros became almost apologetic about his resignation as Cup skipper.

"I hope people understand," he said, "why I won't be the captain again. I want to improve my game so that maybe I can make some cuts." Only a birdie on the last on Saturday prevented him failing to qualify for the last 36 holes for the third week running.

But with the cut line, at a remarkable one-under par in a week when the West Course has been at its toughest, only seven strokes off the lead, anyone still present was capable of jumping on to the leaderboard.

That it was Ballesteros was a delightful surprise for the gallery that set off with him on the first at 10am. Hole by hole the gathering swelled until, at the 18th, it was like old times. The only difference was those in the hospitality units craning for a view had to leave behind their lunches, rather than their late afternoon teas.

"It felt great coming to the last and seeing the people so excited," Ballesteros said. "Really, it's what all players like to see and feel." But no one else causes quite such excitement. The Spaniard may have made seven birdies and an eagle at the fourth, but he also missed six fairways and eight greens. As always, his short game made up for other deficiencies and he required only 22 putts.

"It was very unpredictable and that's what the people like to see," he said. "I would rather play steady like Nick Faldo but that's the way I've always been and I think the people like to see it. It makes me happy to give pleasure to some people. For many years the crowd in this country has always supported me and that helps tremendously."

This is one of Seve's happiest hunting grounds, having brought him seven victories, and he noted the similarity with his home course at Pedrena. "I don't need a yardage book and I can read the putts from the middle of the fairway," he said. "My eye can play this course without any problems." Can his bad knee, bad back, bad neck and bad elbow allow him to do so one more time?

PGA CHAMPIONSHIP (Wentworth) Leading third-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 205 C Montgomerie 70 70 65. 206 D Robertson 70 69 67; M Hallberg (Swe) 68 69 69. 207 G Orr 70 69 68; D Gilford 70 69 68; E Els (SA) 69 69 69. 208 S Ballesteros (Sp) 72 71 65; P Harrington 70 69 69; T Bjorn (Den) 70 69 69; G Turner (NZ) 70 68 70; A Coltart 72 66 70; P Lonard (Aus) 72 65 71; M Jonzon (Swe) 66 70 72. 209 P Sjoland (Swe) 72 71 66; P McGinley 72 69 68. 210 M Florioli (It) 75 68 67; J Coceres (Arg) 73 69 68; W Westner (SA) 73 69 68; D Howell 68 71 71. 211 P Price 71 72 68; V Phillips 70 73 68; M Roe 71 71 69; M James 69 73 69; P Senior (Aus) 72 70 69; L Westwood 71 71 69; J Van de Velde (Fr) 71 71 69; R Davis (Aus) 73 69 69; C Rocca (It) 71 70 70; C Watts 71 69 71; B Langer (Ger) 69 70 72. 212 E Romero (Arg) 70 72 70; S Torrance 70 71 71; G Brand Jnr 71 69 72; K Tomori (Japan) 70 70 72; D Hospital (Sp) 69 69 74. 213 R Claydon 71 72 70; J M Olazabal (Sp) 72 71 70; R Wessels (SA) 71 71 71; R Karlsson (Swe) 71 71 71; J Lomas 71 71 71; S Leaney (Aus) 69 73 71; M McNulty (Zim) 69 72 72; P-U Johansson (Swe) 70 71 72; M Mackenzie 68 71 74.

l Greg Norman said yesterday he would return from shoulder surgery at his own tournament; the Shark Shootout in California, from 13 to 15 November.