Golf: Ballesteros looks to RAC to repair drive: A Spanish master hopes to replace pain with gain on his home territory

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The Independent Online
THE questions are nearly always the same and Seve Ballesteros is getting fed up with the answers. Yes, his back is still giving him trouble and yes he is still playing badly. 'Consistency is my biggest problem at the moment,' he said, confusingly.

In fact he has been very consistent, missing the half-way cut four times in his last six tournaments. As the European Tour moves past the half-way point in the circuitous route for places in the Johnnie Walker Ryder Cup, so the concern mounts over Ballesteros's future. In the world rankings he has drifted to 14th; in the Ryder Cup table he has gone to 31st and in the Volvo Order of Merit this season he has slumped to 66th.

'My back gives me pain and it is not easy to sleep,' he said. 'I'm scared to practise too much.' The catch 22 is that he has to work on his game and his predicament is giving many people connected with golf in Europe sleepless nights. Prior to the Peugeot Spanish Open here at the Real Automovil Club, Ballesteros attended a 75- minute phone-in and answered calls from throughout Spain.

'I was amazed,' he said, 'when one little boy asked me when I was going to retire. I was grateful to see so many people interested in golf. I've always said the demand is there. It's a matter of politics.' It has taken the Spanish public, addicted to football, basketball and the bull-ring, a long time to recognise the exploits of Ballesteros and his proteges. Now, with Ballesteros a prime mover in establishing Spain as the hosts to the Ryder Cup in 1997, they are beginning to warm to the man and the idea.

There will be intense competition between clubs to stage the biennial match. Ballesteros has just completed the design of nine new holes at Club de Campo, which is in Madrid and which last year should have been the venue of the Spanish Open. A strike by staff meant it was switched to the course here. The RAC has kept the tournament and, given far more time to prepare, has produced a course substantially more demanding than 12 months ago. Although there has been a pre-emptive and high-powered bid to stage the Ryder Cup at Valderrama in the south of Spain, there is speculation here that the RAC and La Moraleja, another Madrid course, could also be prominent players.

Meanwhile the prominent players in the Spanish Open, which has prize-money of 90m pesetas (pounds 500,000), have found themselves pitched together: Ballesteros with Ian Woosnam and Eduardo Romero and Nick Faldo in a three-ball with Sandy Lyle and Jose Maria Olazabal. On occasions Faldo and Lyle have been contemporary enemies rather than fellow travellers. 'My God,' Faldo said, 'I can't believe you've waited so long to ask that question,' when the subject of their rivalry was broached. 'I played nine holes with Sandy last week and I had breakfast with him this morning. We even asked about each other's babies. We are softening.'

Faldo finished sixth in the Benson and Hedges International at St Mellion last week after scoring 74 in the third round. 'I watched a videotape of my game and I didn't like what I saw,' he said. Like a character out of Sunset Boulevard, he will watch more film shows of himself this week, shot by his faithful cameraperson and caddie, Fanny Sunesson.

Faldo said he has finished experimenting with different clubs. 'That doesn't work,' he said. Ballesteros, on the other hand, will try anything and yesterday he changed to a new wooden driver.

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