Golf: Ballesteros undone by an acorn: Rule infringement fells Spaniard's hopes of World Matchplay recovery as Frost warms to task

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The Independent Online
THERE was something clearly wrong with Severiano Ballesteros and it was not just the body language nor even the message in plain English that gave the game away. He had in front of him a beer (pretty unique for Seve) and was in the mood, if not to drown his sorrows, then at least give them a small baptism. 'If I don't see you again, happy Christmas,' he said. 'It's the end of the season for me. Salut.'

Not quite. He has a couple of engagements in Japan before the New Year, although after the manner of his defeat in the first round of the Toyota World Match Play Championship here yesterday he would not choose to hit another ball for some time but for the fact that his name is on a contract. Ballesteros was beaten 7 and 6 by David Frost, of South Africa, on a day when most sponsors, not to mention television producers, would have fallen on their swords.

Not only did they lose Ballesteros, a five-times winner of the tournament, but John Daly, Peter Baker and Yoshinori Mizumaki. The latter's defeat following a noble struggle against Colin Montgomerie was particularly bad news for Toyota, who beam the matches to Japan, but at least he gave them a run for their money.

Advocates of the cut and thrust of matchplay saw, for the most part, cut and run. With the exception of the last match, a depressingly familiar pattern emerged. Once a lead was established it was rarely threatened. We can only hope for better things today when the top four seeds emerge from their bunkers.

As Nick Faldo predicted, Daly's long game was not made for the Burma Road. Nor, early yesterday morning, was his short game. He took three putts at the first hole, missed the green at the short second and failed to find the target with his approach at the third. Daly's introduction to Wentworth was bogey, bogey, bogey. Even so it was all square by the seventh, but when Daly conceded the 12th, where he hit a five-iron out of bounds, Steve Elkington had the lead, kept it and embellished it.

The Australian, who plays on the US Tour, went into lunch two up and went to the turn in the afternoon in 32 to Daly's 36. 'He beat me pretty bad,' Daly said. 'My putter hasn't been good all year and it's still not good. On a lot of holes I beat myself.'

Daly saw consolations, apart from receiving pounds 25,000 for being a first-round loser. He says he has learnt to hit a three- quarter shot and he fully appreciates the British spectator as opposed to the rednecks he finds at home. 'The fans here understand when you're mad,' Daly said. 'You don't hear remarks like 'Hey, John you're playing so bad why don't you start drinking again.' '

Daly said he was in no hurry to get home but did not give that impression. He and Elkington completed 18 holes in the morning in 2hr 43min and at the seventh the American hit the ball over the heads of spectators who were crossing at a vantage point.

Elkington deliberately walked at a slower pace and was quite content for Daly to outdrive him. 'I was always playing the second shot first and I was able to put pressure on him,' Elkington said. 'I knew what he was going to do . . . just smash it.' They had played against each other at college, Elkington for the University of Houston, Daly for Arkansas.

Elkington is first off this morning in the second round against Faldo, the defending champion. 'I'm looking forward to falling off a cliff,' Elkington said. 'To play Faldo on his home course is going to be even tougher. Still, I've seen bigger upsets in sport than Steve Elkington beating Nick Faldo.' Such as? 'What about the Ryder Cup? You guys should have won that.'

Ballesteros had had six bogeys in the morning before going three down with a seven at the 17th, hitting his first drive out of bounds on the left. Any chance of a recovery disappeared at the second hole after lunch. Great hopes from little acorns were buried. Ballesteros was just off the green with his tee shot and in between his ball and the flag was an acorn, embedded in the ground. He nudged it out with a tee peg and then tapped down the mark with his putter.

John Paramor, the referee, informed the Spaniard that he had infringed rule 13.2, more specifically improving the line of his putt. Ballesteros had to concede the hole which put him four down. He was entitled to remove the acorn by hand but his error was in tapping the grass after he had done so. 'It was my mistake,' Ballesteros said. 'It was just a reaction. I thought I was doing the right thing. There are a lot of rules in golf. Some are fair, others aren't. When things go wrong they definitely go wrong.'

He said he would not play in Europe's showpiece finale to the year, the Volvo Masters in Valderrama next month. If that is the case it means that, for the first time in 17 years on the European Tour, Ballesteros has gone through a season without winning a tournament. 'I probably shouldn't have been here this week,' Ballesteros said. 'I just can't focus. I'm very, very tired.'

Mizumaki had a chance to become the first Japanese player to win a match in this championship in seven years when he went to the 36th one up on Montgomerie. However, the Scot got back to all square with a four and won the match with another birdie at the first extra hole. He sank a putt from off the green from about 30 feet and Mizumaki left his short from 11 feet. 'Many Japanese players are chicken- hearted,' Mizumaki said, 'but I came here and I try, try, try.'

(Photograph omitted)