Golf: End fully justifies Ballesteros' means

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The Independent Online
Ryder Cup: He was everywhere at Valderrama, zooming around on his buggy offering advice to everyone bar the senior players but Tim Glover finds the success of Seve Ballesteros as Europe's captain was due less to his tactics but to a Swede and an Italian proving a point

At the gala dinner, the teams walked in to a huge marquee to the musical accompaniment from Chariots of Fire. Seve Ballesteros has been riding a similar form of transport all week. The captain of the European team has been living on adrenalin, very little sleep and has had his foot firmly on the accelerator of a buggy which, like the Tardis, seemed to take him to the most interesting locations.

Ballesteros was so conspicuous he was almost beside himself. When he gave Ian Woosnam a lift in the captain's golf cart, the Welshman complained about the speed of the Spaniard's driving.

"I haven't hit anybody," Ballesteros said. "I must be a good driver."

Considering that he's hardly hit a fairway all year, driving has not been one of Seve's strong points. Was he a good non-playing captain? The end justified the means.

Some of the players complained that he was too enthusiastic although in the history of criminology it can hardly be described as a crime. Ballesteros wanted to play every shot and on occasions some of those who were not fluent in Spanish or pidgin English had trouble interpreting his instructions, not to mention his game plan. It was also notable that he steered clear, when the battle was at its most intense, of the elder statesman in the team, including Nick Faldo and Bernard Langer.

Ballesteros's pairings in the fourballs on Saturday were sensationally successful and they had to be. What you can usually bet your bottom dollar on is that the Americans, for reasons of strength in depth, have always been more formidable in the singles.

Ian Woosnam, who was not best pleased at being left out on the first day, was happy to go out first in the singles yesterday. Two years ago, at Oak Hill, Ballesteros was sent out first in the singles by the captain, Bernard Gallacher, not so much in any great expectation of getting a point, more to make a point.

At the time Ballesteros could not keep the ball in play, but the tremendous way he tried helped to inspire Europe.

At the end of the second series of foursomes yesterday morning, Europe led 101/2 to 51/2 and needed to gather only 31/2 more points out of 12 to retain the Cup. It was a big only.

After Woosnam had been outplayed by Fred Couples, the United States had a dream start, but then the script went pearshaped. Tom Kite, the American captain, had no option but to concentrate his strength at the top. Ballesteros had more room to manoeuvre, but he and Europe were indebted to Per-Ulrik Johannson and Costantino Rocca.

Johannson was one of the players who thought he had been under-employed by Ballesteros at Valderrama. At Oak Hill the Swede was sent out last against Phil Mickelson in match that was rendered redundant as Europe registered a victory by 141/2-131/2.

The importance of tactics in the Ryder Cup can be overstated, but in 1995 Europe went into the singles two points behind and Gallacher had to get early points on the board. If Johannson had a point to prove yesterday, he did so emphatically, defeating Davis Love, the US PGA champion, 3 and 2.

Love's labours were lost in this Ryder Cup and, almost certainly, more by accident than design, Rocca, who blew it against Love at The Belfry four years ago, found himself pitched against Tiger Woods.

After Rocca had outplayed the world No 1, it was not surprising that Ballesteros treated the Italians to a bear hug of epic proportions. Costantino was as immovable as the Rock of Gibraltar.

When Rocca chipped in at the seventh, Ballesteros was in the process of eating a sandwich and, in his excited reaction, he nearly choked on it. In the final analysis Europe didn't choke although the US mounted a magnificent cavalry charge in the singles.

The American tradition is to change captain for every match and while Kite will be expected to stand down for the 1997 Ryder Cup at Brookline, Boston, Ballesteros will be under pressure to run for a second term although last night he insisted that somebody else should shoulder the responsibility. Nevertheless, the strong suspicion is that the Ryder Cup committee will be seeking to put all their eggs in at least one Basque.