Golf: Ballesteros stays strong

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Ernie Els' passport does not allow him to play in the Ryder Cup but, as a member of both the European and US tours, he is an interested observer. On the eve of the Volvo PGA Championship here, he brings news of note from the American captain, Tom Kite.

"I was playing with Tom recently and he reckons his team might be the best in history," Els said. Since Kite was a member of the 1981 American team who included Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller, Ray Floyd, Hale Irwin and Ben Crenshaw, he has a fair basis for comparison.

Europe lost that match by nine points, but this year's captain, Seve Ballesteros, was not playing.

Ballesteros, who for most of this season has been in a far from jovial mood about the Cup, is now smiling again. His compatriot, Jose Maria Olazabal, suggested a golfer's state of mind is dictated by how he is striking the ball, a department is which Seve is improving rapidly. He can also feel better about his potential team.

Bernhard Langer, the bookmakers' favourite for the PGA after his back- to-back wins in Italy and at The Oxfordshire, is virtually assured of a place, as is the back-to-form Colin Montgomerie. Ian Woosnam is comfortably in the top 10 automatic places and Olazabal is 11th.

In addition, Nick Faldo has returned from America in an attempt to add to his meagre tally of Cup points. With a purse of pounds 1.1m on offer - a record for the tour - and a first prize of pounds 183,340, substantial moves can be made this week.

"Maybe Nick is worried about his selection," Ballesteros suggested mischievously. While Bernard Gallacher assured Faldo of a wild card well before end of the qualifying process on previous occasions, Ballesteros will not do the same.

"It's nice to see Nick make the effort to qualify," Ballesteros said. "I am strong enough to leave him out. I have made it very clear that I shall pick the best players for the team. For me, there are no friends. I will make the picks on form, experience and how people can handle the pressure."

Faldo has two out of three of those already and will be needed to counterbalance the four or five new players the captain expects to be on the team.

"I do not worry about that at all," Ballesteros said. "The new players are enthusiastic and energetic. The first time you don't worry about how important it is to win points like you do the more you play."

Ballesteros, Faldo, Langer, Woosnam and Olazabal are all previous winners of the PGA, while Els finished second shortly before winning the US Open in 1994. The South African is unbeaten in three years in the World Match Play on the West Course here.

Though Tiger Woods is unlikely to put in an appearance later this year, Els would relish taking him on. "It would be a hell of a challenge," he said.