Golf: Claydon displays his mettle in the desert

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SEVE BALLESTEROS, the subject of a time and motion study, narrowly avoided a fine on his return to the European Tour yesterday while Russell Claydon was the beneficiary of one of golf's unwritten rules: finders keepers. Claydon believes his game has been transformed by a spot of scavenging.

Claydon shot 66 in the first round of the Desert Classic, one stroke behind the Irishman Paul McGinley. Claydon, like McGinley a former Walker Cup player, was playing in the European Masters in Switzerland last year when he spotted a broken putter in a rubbish bin by the 15th tee. The Ping club had been snapped in two by its owner, the Swede Johan Rystrom. Claydon's caddie picked up the pieces and had the putter fitted with a new shaft.

Claydon, from Cambridge, used it to good effect over the Emirates course here, opening with three birdies with putts from 10 to 20 feet. He had six in all and had he not missed from five feet at the 18th would have equalled McGinley's score of 65.

Ballesteros, the defending champion, shot 71. 'Nothing very exciting,' he said. 'Just steady.' Too steady, according to Tour officials who twice warned him about slow play. Had he made a third breach of the rules he would have faced a fine of pounds 250. The first player in a threeball has 55 seconds to play his shot, the second and third in the group have 40 seconds.

Ballesteros's group went round in four and a half hours. The Tour's target is four hours and three minutes. 'I would have been happy with four hours 15 minutes,' Mike Stewart, the tournament director, said. 'We are consistently under pressure from the players on the tournament committee to alleviate slow play.'

Ballesteros said: 'It didn't bother me. I thought I played quite fast but I'm worried about Bernhard Langer. I think he's going to have a lot of breaches this year. Also Nick Faldo.' Langer, who is not playing here, is a member of the tournament committee. Faldo, who is at two under par after a round of 70, said he had no problem with the pace of play. 'I don't want the regulations to become like those on the American tour which are very black and white,' Faldo said. 'The players are conscious of slow play. We don't want a clampdown, just a gentle reminder at the right time.'

Faldo had a six at the par-five 18th where he took three putts to get down from 40 feet after leaving his first putt 12 feet short. 'I hit the ball pretty good and I gave myself some chances,' he said, 'but I need to work a bit on tempo with my putter.'

The stopwatch was put on Ballesteros because he was one of the earliest starters but, despite the warnings, play became progressively slower. McGinley, one of the last to finish, went round in a shade under five hours. 'I took my time and remained cool and calm because play was so slow,' McGinley said. 'We had a lot of waiting to do.'

McGinley, 26, from Dublin, is a former Gaelic footballer who turned professional after playing in the Walker Cup at Portmarnock in 1991. In his rookie season last year he finished 97th in the Order of Merit. He is very much a disciple of the Faldo school and has received considerable assistance from the world No 1.

'He invited me on an expenses-paid trip to Welwyn Garden City two years ago and I've taken a lot of things on board that he's said and done,' McGinley said. 'It is very important to be fit and strong. I exercise a lot and closely monitor what I eat.' McGinley drinks water and eats fruit but only on an empty stomach. He is put through his paces by Pat Smyth, the trainer who is in charge of the fitness of the Irish cyclists, Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche.

All of this should stand McGinley, whose 65 was the best round of his professional career, in good stead in the desert. 'My goals are personal,' he said. 'I'm taking things step by step. I don't feel under any pressure to win a tournament.' The highlight of McGinley's round, which was one stroke outside the record set by Eamonn Darcy in 1990, was his approach shot at the 13th. His path to the green was blocked by a palm tree and he drew, or semi-hooked the ball around the tree to the left edge of the green.

Steven Richardson, who was six under par with two holes to play, finished with a 70 after dropping four strokes. He took three putts at the eighth (his 17th) and had a triple-bogey seven at the ninth. Richardson drove into the rough on the right at the last and overhit a six-iron. His ball bounced on the roof of a hospitality marquee and ended up out of bounds behind some flower pots on the side of the practice putting green. With a one-stroke penalty he had to return whence he came and his fourth shot finished short of the green. Then he took three putts. 'I might be smiling about it,' Richardson said, 'but inside I'm gutted.' But he resisted the temptation to break his putter, disappointing the scrap metal merchants who were hovering around the rubbish bin.

DUBAI DESERT CLASSIC (Emirates Club, Dubai) Leading first-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 65 P McGinley. 66 R Claydon. 69 S Struver (Ger), P Hall, W Westner (SA), J Payne, J Haeggman (Swe), P Affleck, R Chapman, H-P Thuel (Ger), G Ralph, R Rafferty. 70 M Sunesson (Swe), B Lane, J Hawkes (SA), P Baker, J Spence, N Faldo, P Way, S Richardson, R Goosen (SA). 71 J Coceres (Arg), A Sorensen (Den), P Lawrie, A Gillner (Swe), E O'Connell, M Krantz (Swe), S Tinning (Den), F Lindgren (Swe), P Mitchell, S Ballesteros (Sp), E Els (SA), D Gilford, V Singh (Fiji), C Mason, S Ames (Trin), D Mijovic (Can), M Harwood (Aus), R Karlsson (Swe). 72 B Malley (US), A Lebouc (Fr), S Gimson (Sing), R Alvarez (Arg), M Roe, M Poxon, P Teravainen (US), P Walton, G Evans, G Brand Jnr, M Davis, O Sellberg (Swe), M McLean, B Marchbank, J Hobday (SA), K Waters, P Broadhurst. 73 D Silva (Por), M Lanner (Swe), S Torrance, D Feherty, C Montgomerie, J Townsend (US), C Rocca (It), M James, A Sherborne, A Forsbrand (Swe), M Mouland, C McClellan (US), S McAllister, R Willison, J Robson, P Price.