Golf: Ballesteros is reprieved by referee

SEVE BALLESTEROS escaped disqualification from the Spanish Open yesterday after television replays showed him dropping his ball several yards closer to the hole than he should have done.

Ballesteros, in the worst slump of his career and without a win since the same event four years ago, lost a ball up a tree on the long 12th hole. He marched back to where he had played the shot from and played another ball, but it was brought to the attention of tournament officials that his shot was from a different place to the original. The chief referee John Paramor studied film of the incident. But no penalty was imposed, and Ballesteros's bogey six on the hole and one-over-par 73 stood.

"If a player cannot exactly identify the spot he played a stroke from he has to estimate," said Paramor. "Seve was probably five to seven yards closer to the hole, but over a shot of around 230 yards from the green we considered he had made a reasonable estimate. The place he dropped the ball did not change the shot he faced."

His fellow countryman Sergio Garcia, the newest professional on the European circuit, made a dream start in his first event as a pro when he achieved birdies at three of the first four holes to hold the lead briefly.

At the end of a hectic morning session, the 19-year-old debutant signed for a five-under-par 67 to sit two strokes off the early leaders, fellow Spaniards Ignacio Garrido and Juan Carlos Aguero, Swede Max Anglert and Britain's Anthony Wall, who all shot 65.

While it was a memorable morning for Garcia, the leading amateur at the US Masters two weeks ago, it proved less so for the Masters champion, Jose Maria Olazabal. Lack of proper preparation after endless rounds of interviews left Olazabal sadly short of form off the tee and on greens he found bumpy and unpredictable. The Spanish hero had to settle for a 72 to be seven off the lead.

His compatriot Garrido chipped in for an eagle on the last for his 65, while early co-leader Anglert ran in 11 single putts on his last 11 holes.

Wall then joined the leaders with an unblemished seven birdies. Aguero, 23, an invitee from Severiano Ballesteros's Pedrena club, made his first visit to a Spanish Open leaderboard with a blazing start of an eagle and four birdies.

SPANISH OPEN Early first round scores (GB or Ire unless stated): 65 M Anglert (Swe), I Garrido (Sp), JC Aguero (Sp), A Wall; 66 A Binaghi (It); 67 J Van de Velde (Fr), D Hospital (Sp), S Garcia (Sp), M Campbell (NZ), J Rivero (Sp); 68 P Affleck, R Drummond, S Webster, M McNulty (Zim), D Howell, P Baker, J Haeggman (Swe), A Cejka (Ger), JM Carriles (Sp), G Orr, J Payne, G Emerson, I Giner (Sp); 69 B Davis, T Gogele (Ger), E Romero (Arg), D Robertson, R Wessels (SA), P Haugsrud (Nor), J Coceres (Arg), C Rocca (It), P Eales, V Phillips; 70 B Lane, M Scarpa (It), J Mellor, S Henderson, G Ogilvy (Aus), R Albinana (Sp), A Cabrera (Arg), R Karlsson (Swe), P Fulke (Swe), N Faldo; 71 J Senden (Aus), MA Martin (Sp), A Coltart, C Hanell (Swe), P Mitchell, A Oldcorn, M Mouland, X Guzman (Sp), A Beal, R Winchester; 72 JM Olazabal (Sp), M Lanner (Swe), F Tarnaud (Fr), M Farry (Fr), D Gilford, R McFarlane, I Garbutt, R Chapman, M Gronberg (Swe), MA Jimenez (Sp); 73 J Bickerton, M Mackenzie, M Long (NZ), A McLardy (SA), J Moseley (Aus), H Nystrom (Swe), C Whitelaw (SA), D Edlund (Swe), S Grappasonni (It), J Berendt (Arg), G Owen, R Russell, M Tunnicliff, A Salto (It), G Turner (NZ), J Rozadilla (Sp), S Ballesteros (Sp); 74 C Rodiles (Sp), P Broadhurst, B Langer (Ger), R Gonzalez (Arg), F Cea (Sp), M Ballesteros (Sp), S Field, J Quiros (Sp), P Quirici (Swit), R Derksen (Neth), P Nyman (Swe), F Jacobson (Swe), S Allan (Aus), R Jacquelin (Fr), R Vera (Sp); 75 J Sota (Sp), A Garrido (Sp), P Linhart (Sp), D Cooper, F Lindgren (Swe); 76 J Remesy (Fr), M Pinero (Sp), E Darcy; 77 R Muntz (Neth), J Cestino (Sp); 78 M Florioli (It); 80 G Garrido (Sp); 81 M James.

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