Golf: Glimpse of future from Gronberg

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The Independent Online
IT IS not beyond the bounds of possibility that the Smurfit European Open yesterday saw a dress rehearsal for when the Ryder Cup visits the Emerald Isle in 2005. Craig Hainline may then be playing for the American team, Mathias Gronberg could be a key member of the European side with the K Club providing the venue.

On a scale of one to 100, the probability of the first might be in single figures and of the last in three figures. At least, the Smurfit Jefferson organisation which owns the K Club seems certain the Ryder Cup will be their Kildare hideaway and expect an announcement soon.

This may come as a surprise to the sub-committee formed at Portmarnock, the grand links north of Dublin, who have been informed nothing will be decided until after the US Masters next year.

The K Club can offer a luxury hotel and good communications with Dublin and will always hold pleasant memories for Gronberg. With the tournament offering a record tour prize fund of pounds 1.25m, Gronberg walked away with a cheque for pounds 208,300 after his 10-stroke victory, the largest on the tour this year.

His main obstacle in the final round was the weather with a blustery wind and rain that became heavy enough for a 40-minute delay in mid-afternoon. By then, the 28-year-old from Sweden had played 10 holes and was 10 strokes ahead.

Hainline, a European tour rookie from Kansas, was his closest challenger at the start, but bogeyed the eighth and doubled the ninth and 10th. Of the last two pairs, which also included Bernhard Langer and Darren Clarke, Gronberg was the only player to make a birdie on the front nine, and he made three. In matchplay terms, Gronberg beat Hainline 7 and 5, finishing off his opponent with an eagle at the 13th.

The Swede's closing 69 left Phillip Price and Miguel Angel Cabrera trailing in his wake. Clarke was a shot behind as only six players broke par for the week. "It is not every day you win by 10 shots," Gronberg said.

"I hope this will spur me on to some great golf in the future. I putted really well early in the round and did not make a mistakes over the front nine."

Clarke collected pounds 10,000 worth of air miles as the leading Irish player, but with a closing 73 missed the chance to edge nearer to Lee Westwood at the top of the order of merit. Westwood did not receive any prize money after retiring during the round but remains pounds 55,000 ahead of Clarke.

"My goal was to get to second place and go top of the moneylist but I've closed the gap a bit and will have another chance next week," said Clarke.

Westwood is definitely not playing in Germany but hopes to return the week after in Switzerland, when the Ryder Cup points start, following treatment on his injured left hip at home in Worksop.

Having been doubtful for the final round anyway, Westwood managed to go no further than the sixth fairway. At the time he was 13-over but of more concern is a condition that also flared up after the Ryder Cup last September.

"I hit my second shot to the sixth and couldn't get through the ball," Westwood, 25, said. "The pain in my left hip was too bad for me to continue.

"I think the problem was caused by taking two weeks off after the Dutch Open, not touching a club, then coming back and over-practising before the USPGA. I probably did four-times my normal practice routine at Sahalee and felt the problem in my hip during the tournament.

"It seems to be a problem with the sciatic nerve on my left side," Westwood added.

Fiji's Vijay Singh, who won his first major title at the US PGA Championship last week, withstood charges by Tiger Woods and Willie Wood to lead the PGA International in Colorado with six points after the third round.

Scores, Digest, page 15