GOLF: Garcia aims for professional approach

WITH ONLY three of the top-20 PGA Tour money winners in the Greater Greensboro Classic, much of the attention will be in Spain this week for two reasons.

Jose-Maria Olazabal will be playing for the Peugeot Open for the first time since winning the Masters, and Sergio Garcia will be making his professional debut.

Garcia, the 19-year-old British Amateur champion known as "El Nino", was the first European to be the low amateur at Augusta National. While that does not guarantee success as a pro, he has a lot more going for him than Justin Rose, the English teenager who turned pro after tying for fourth in the British Open. Rose has not made a professional cut in 18 tries.

Garcia has played 30 professional events in the past six years. He made 12 of 13 cuts last year, and has a 37-2 record in matchplay since 1997. "We are delighted to welcome Sergio," said Ken Schofield, executive director of the PGA European Tour. "We've followed his progress ever since he made the cut at the Mediterranean Open at the age of 14."

Meanwhile, the Ryder Cup player Thomas Bjorn yesterday withdrew from the competition. The Dane, due to play his first tournament since missing the half-way cut in the Masters, suffered a recurrence of an old neck injury getting out of bed for the eve-of-tournament pro-am.

The 28-year-old, a one-stroke winner over Olazabal and Australian Greg Chalmers on the same El Prat course last year, immediately flew home to Dubai to visit a chiropractor. He hopes to be back in two or three weeks' time.

Meanwhile, Seve Ballesteros missed the pro-am with a left knee injury, but hopes to be able to tee off in today's first round.

Ballesteros, whose last tournament victory was the Spanish Open four years ago, said: "I'm falling apart. I've been having problems in my right knee for the last five months, but now all of a sudden I have the same problem with the left.

"A few days ago I was [training on the] bicycle and weightlifting at home in Pedrena. I don't know what happened, but I can't squat or bend my knee. It hurts slightly, but continuously and it gets worse when swinging when I turn my weight through to the left."

Ballesteros is also suffering from a partially broken shoulder caused, he said, by the wear and tear of his 25 years on the European Tour.

The competition represents another chance for Nick Faldo to make up lost ground in the Ryder Cup qualifying race. "I've got a two-week break after this week, then the Benson and Hedges International, Deutsche-Bank Open and Volvo PGA Championship. One really good week and I'm right back in it," he said.

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