Golf: Ballesteros back in the top drawer

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AS DRAWS go it was not of the hold-your-breath variety. There are 12 players in the Toyota World Match Play Championship which starts tomorrow at Wentworth and only four of them went into the hat. The rest are carefully placed, or seeded as it is officially known.

The top four seeds, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Nick Price and Jose-Maria Olazabal, received a bye in the first round and do not appear until Friday. There are also four seeds in the first round and it was the names of their opponents who entered one of the smallest draws since Tom Thumb wandered into a Wendy House.

Those who lose in the first round are guaranteed pounds 22,500 out of a purse of pounds 550,000. In the second round, Ballesteros will play the winner of the match between Jeff Sluman and Vijay Singh; Olazabal the winner of Ian Woosnam versus Norio Suzuki; Price meets either Greg Norman or Brad Faxon and Faldo plays Mark O'Meara or Anders Forsbrand.

Ballesteros, who beat Price in last year's final, is seeded one even though he is 23rd in the European Order of Merit and seventh in the world rankings. Faldo, the world No 1, is seeded two. Olazabal, ranked three in the world, is the No 4 seed. Twelve months ago, when he was the world No 2, Olazabal did not receive an invitation to this championship. When you are omnipotent you can afford the odd idiosyncrasy.

Mark McCormack, the chairman of IMG, devised and introduced the World Match Play in 1964. McCormack, however, has been thwarted here by the absence of Fred Couples and Tom Kite, the winners of the Masters and the US Open. Kite is opening a new course in Tennessee and Couples is playing in the Honda Open in Hamburg, a coincidence which has not gone down well with Toyota.

'I'm personally disappointed,' McCormack said. 'If there is a conflicting tournament there should be a clause in a player's contract releasing him for the World Match Play if he is an automatic qualifier.'

In a breathtaking example of the kettle blacking the name of the pot, IMG pointed out that Couples is 'receiving a substantial financial guarantee' to play in Germany this week. IMG added: 'The World Match Play Championship does not enter into such arrangements, preferring instead to rely upon the prize-money and the stature of the event to attract the world's best players.'

Funnily enough, Couples, leading money-winner in America this year, is not an IMG client.

There are six members of the European tour in the field. 'In 1967 no British or European was able to perform to a level to qualify for the World Match Play,' Ken Schofield, Europe's executive director, said. 'This is the real story of how far European golf has gone forward.'

WORLD MATCH PLAY CHAMPIONSHIP (Wentworth): First round (36 holes, tomorrow): J Sluman (US) v V Singh (Fiji), winner plays S Ballesteros (Sp); I Woosnam (GB) v N Suzuki (Jap), winner plays J-M Olazabal (Sp); B Faxon (US) v G Norman (Aus), winner plays N Price (Zim); A Forsbrand (Swe) v M O'Meara (US), winner plays N Faldo (GB).