Golf: Ballesteros seeks windfall in the Orchard

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He tried to be diplomatic, but there was no disguising the fact that the Orchard Golf and Country Club would not feature on Seve Ballesteros's list of favourite courses. "Quite good" was his assessment of the newest addition to the playing fields of the Philippines.

Ballesteros had just played in the pro-am to the Johnnie Walker Classic which starts today, and his personal score was 77 - five over par. This, however, did not stop his team winning the competition. "Difficult" was the adjective that kept springing to his mind. "It's going to be difficult to score well," the Spaniard said. "The rough is tough, the ground is hard. It's going to be difficult to chip - difficult to play the shot you need."

Fred Couples complained that because of the hardness of the greens it was virtually impossible to get approach shots close to the flags. Couples won the Desert Classic in Dubai last week, with a record-equalling aggregate of 20 under par. Neither he nor anyone else thinks they will get close to that score this week.

However, any criticism of the Orchard tended to be shrouded in diplomatic language for a very good reason. The course, which only opened last July, was designed by Arnold Palmer, who played here himself on Tuesday. The course, built on a 60-year-old mango orchard, measures just over 7,000 yards, and the £8m clubhouse stretches the entire length of the 583yd 18th hole. The course is called The Legacy.

To promote the tournament, the sponsors have erected huge posters in Manila of Greg Norman, which vie for space with hoardings of the Pope who recently visited the city. Even if we are in for a thriller in Manila, the Great White Shark and company will not attract anything like the crowds that flocked to see the Pope.

Norman is the defending champion. For the second week running he leads a world-class field. The big six who were "bunged" to play in Dubai - Norman, Couples, Ernie Els, Colin Montgomerie, Nick Price and Bernhard Langer - will be on another nice little earner here, as will Ballesteros, playing in his first event of the season.

The traffic in Manila, which has a population greater than that of London, is worse than anything the M25 can offer. the seven major players are being flown to and from the course in helicopters, while the rest have to make do with buses.

The principal reason for Ballesteros's 77 yesterday was a poor short game - the result, he said, of inactivity. He has hardly played a round since his infamous defeat by Langer in the Volvo Masters at Valderrama last November. After being fined by John Paramor for slow play - a decision that Ken Scho-field, the executive director of the European Tour, thought was quite incredible - Ballesteros was refused a free drop by Paramor in the climax to the championship.

The Spaniard drove behind a tree on the final hole, and argued for a free drop on the grounds that his ball was near a hole that had been created by a "burrowing animal". Paramor ruled against him. Ballesteros was no doubt delighted to discover on his arrival in the Philippines that the tournament director here is none other than Paramor.

The reason Ballesteros has been idle is because the rain in Spain has been relentless. That, and a bout of flu which prevented him from going to California last week for a spell of practice with his coach, Mac O'Grady. He intends to see O'Grady next weekinstead. After that, he will rejoin the European Tour for the Canaries Open, before playing in four tournaments in America in his build-up to the Masters at Augusta National.

The last time Ballesteros was in the Philippines was in 1977, when he and Antonio Garrido won the World Cup at a course called Wack Wack. Ballesteros enters the new year as the leader - with more than £300,000 - of Europe's Ryder Cup table. He is virtually assured of qualifying for the team on merit for the match against the United States in Rochester, New York, in September.

"I'm more optimistic about the season," he said. "My confidence is higher." This is in contrast to his appearance in the Cup at The Belfry two years ago, when he was one of Bernard Gallacher's selections.

He withdrew from the final session of fourballs, and was then defeated in the singles by Jim Gallagher as Europe went down to a narrow defeat. "This time I want to be in peak form," Ballesteros said. "I want to be of use to the team."

n European golf has lost another sponsor with the decision of Rothmans (UK) Ltd to withdraw their 10-year association with the Dunhill British Masters. The announcement comes only a fortnight after Heineken decided to end their backing for the Dutch and Australian Opens, and also the World Cup of Golf, after this season.