Golf: Ballesteros' just deserts in the desert

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CALL the Emirates course what you want - Greg Norman prefers "diamonds in the rough" although an "oasis in the desert" seems more appropriate - this is a miraculous place made reality only by the addition of a million gallons of water every night.

As unnatural a phenomenon as the fairways here are, however, the fact that Seve Ballesteros was playing from most of them counts as an even bigger miracle.

In recent years, the only way it seemed possible to get Ballesteros to drive straight was for all the trees and long grass to be planted down the middle.

But the Spaniard's hard work over the winter months paid off in the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic yesterday. A round of 68, four under par, saw only three tee shots miss the fairway, and those only by the narrowest of margins.

This, of course, created other problems. Ballesteros's only dropped shot came at the second hole, after hitting the fairway. His second shot was pushed into a bunker, from where he failed to get up and down. "I'm not used to playing from the fairway," he joked.

"I had a sand wedge shot, the easiest and simplest shot in golf, and I pushed it. If I was in the rough, I'm sure I would have made the green. But other than that I was pretty steady and felt comfortable."

Ballesteros, who missed 13 out of 20 cuts last year, was two strokes behind the Swedish leader, Robert Karlsson, but two strokes ahead of the five-times European No 1, Colin Montgomerie.

One of the Spaniard's playing partners was his countryman, Ignacio Garrido. "It was nice to watch Seve in good shape again," Garrido said. "He has improved quite a lot from last year."

This would not be difficult, as Seve admitted himself: "I'm pretty sure it will be a better year than last year."

Garrido shared second place, on five under, with Andrew Coltart - who has had an impressive winter in Australia where he is leading the order of merit - and two Australians of contrasting reputations, Norman and Stephen Allan.

In 13 rounds here, Norman, twice a runner-up in the event, is 50 under par.

The Shark feels at home partly because the greens are as swift as he is used to Down Under.

"They get firm and crusty so I know what to expect," he said. "On the flat, these greens are probably quicker than those at Augusta."