Golf: Ballesteros rages at omission: Organisers criticised as five-times champion loses chance of 19th successive appearance

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The Independent Online
SEVE BALLESTEROS learnt yesterday that he had been omitted from the World Match Play Championship next month, and that had the effect of a red rag to a bull. The target for the Spaniard's charge was Mark McCormack, whose company, the International Management Group, runs the annual autumn classic at Wentworth and 11 other events in Europe.

'It looks like it's going to be the McCormack Tour very soon instead of our Tour, the players' Tour,' Ballesteros, who is at East Sussex National for the European Open, said. 'It looks like he owns it. A lot of political things happen. You give me a little piece of the cake here and I'll give you a little piece there. That sort of thing.'

The World Match Play was conceived by McCormack in 1964 and the fact that he was able to guarantee the appearance of Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, two of his major clients, virtually assured the championship of its success. Ballesteros has played in every one since 1976 and he and Player have won the title five times each. 'One of my goals this season was to win it for a record sixth time,' Ballesteros said.

During the European Masters, at Crans-sur-Sierre last week, the 37-year-old Ballesteros, who is not an IMG client, said he had heard 'hopeful sounds' from his manager, Joe Collet, that he would play in the World Match Play for a 19th successive time. 'I've reached the final five times and won five times,' Ballesteros said. 'That's not a bad record.' However, last year, he was knocked out in the first round over the Burma Road 7 and 6 by David Frost and admitted later that he should not have played. John Daly, who made an almost equally ignominious first- round exit, has been re-invited.

When the 12-man field was announced yesterday, Ballesteros's was not the only name missing. Nick Price and Greg Norman, the world No 1 and No 2 respectively, are also absent. Both have recently split from IMG although both have indicated that they will play for their countries in the Dunhill Cup, at St Andrews, which is another IMG special production, the week before the World Match Play.

Ballesteros is giving the Dunhill Cup a miss and may also, on yesterday's evidence, decline to play in the Lancome Trophy in Paris later this month. That tournament, too, is run by IMG. He has won the Lancome four times.

''When the Tour lets someone like McCormack take so much power, obviously it's a risk. It shouldn't happen. It's not how it's supposed to be. I've heard a lot of complaints from players over the years and I can see their point. It's happening to me now. It happened to Jose-Maria Olazabal a few years ago. It's not good for the game.'

Ballesteros, who has been plagued by back trouble, has not won a major championship since 1988. 'When the tree falls down a lot of people want to take a little cut out of it,' he said. 'My feeling is that this is what's been happening. I only have one way to go and that's to reach the top again. Then I'll have my power back.'

McCormack is not the only promoter of tournaments. Several players have got in on the act and that includes Ballesteros, whose company, Amen Corner, runs several championships in Spain. Today, after the first round here, Ballesteros will have a meeting with Ken Schofield, the executive director of the European Tour. Last week, in Switzerland, the Spaniard had animated discussions with George O'Grady, the deputy executive director. 'I can only make suggestions,' Ballesteros said. 'I don't have any power.'

The European Open has pounds 600,000 in prize-money despite failing to attract a major sponsor to replace General Accident. The championship is being underwritten by Birchgrey, the promoters, and the Tour and Sky TV. They maintain that no 'appearance' money is being paid to players. Of those who can expect to negotiate fees to play in events, only Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer are absent.

'I'm here because I like this tournament, I like the golf course and I like the hospitality of the people who invited me,' Ballesteros said. 'I like Jack Nicklaus courses.'

The trouble is, East Sussex National was designed not by Nicklaus but by another American, Bob Cupp. Next week, Ballesteros plays in the Dunhill British Masters at Woburn, an event that comes under the IMG umbrella. 'I expect they need me for that for some reason,' he said.

The entrants in the World Match Play are Nick Faldo, Jose-Maria Olazabal, Ernie Els, John Daly, Corey Pavin, Colin Montgomerie, Ian Woosnam, Jesper Parnevik, David Frost, Yoshinori Mizumaki, Brad Faxon and Vijay Singh.

----------------------------------------------------------------- EUROPEAN MASTERS CARD OF COURSE ----------------------------------------------------------------- Hole Yards Par Hole Yards Par 1st 361 4 10th 510 5 2nd 517 5 11th 394 4 3rd 448 4 12th 386 4 4th 216 3 13th 194 3 5th 460 4 14th 575 5 6th 336 4 15th 471 4 7th 573 5 16th 178 3 8th 149 3 17th 450 4 9th 466 4 18th 454 4 Out: 3,526 36 In: 3,612 36 Total: 7,138 72 -----------------------------------------------------------------