Golf: Hope springs eternal for Eales

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The Independent Online
FREDRIK LINDGREN is well placed to become the third Swedish winner on the European tour this season after the third round of the pounds 450,000 Italian Open, but bogeys at the last two holes yesterday trimmed his lead from three shots to one and probably knocked three hours from his sleep last night.

He shot 69, which leaves him on 204, 12 under par, and closely pursued by a cosmopolitan bunch. Paul Eales of England and Eduardo Romero of Argentina are a shot behind, with John Bland of South Africa two shots adrift. Lindgren had four consecutive birdies from the 11th, but a missed three-foot putt for another at the 15th stopped that streak and two misjudged three-irons into the last two greens cost him two further shots. 'I just hope I can make up for those mistakes tomorrow,' he said.

Eales, meanwhile, had opened with three birdies in the first six holes, but after that his only deviation from par was a bogey at the 10th. 'I feel confident,' he said. 'Tomorrow I am just going to concentrate on what Paul Eales is doing. I didn't start the week playing well but I'm getting better and better.' And if he wins the pounds 75,000 first prize this afternoon, he will become the third winner in as many weeks to use victory as a springboard to the top of the Order of Merit.

The Marco Simone Golf Club is set in terracotta-roofed country amid rolling hills some 10 miles north of Rome. From the 17th tee, you get a good view of the 196-yard par-three and a distant sight of the dome of St Peter's. The weather yesterday was quintessentially Mediterranean - azure skies and a balmy breeze. Unusually for the Italian Open, where the quality of the cuisine normally outshines the calibre of the course, the greens are perfect. They have been the primary reason for some low scoring this week. 'They are so true,' said Eales. 'Wherever you hit the ball, that's where the putt goes.' Lindgren called them 'the best I've ever seen'. Anders Forsbrand said: 'They remain good however much traffic goes over them.'

The rest of the course is no pushover. The 425-yard, par- four ninth took a nine from Alexander Cejka and an eight from Howard Clark yesterday, and 14 golfers managed sevens on the first, third or 16th, three water-ridden par-fives. But Peter Teravainen fired a seven- under-par 65, the lowest round of the day, to be on seven under after 54 holes, and Forsbrand is one shot better off after a 66 that included six birdies in the first eight holes.

These days there are more Swedes on the European tour than on a Spanish beach. There are three of them in the top 20 on the Order of Merit, and of the 13 who entered this tournament, eight made the cut. Today, Forsbrand will be aiming for his second win of the season; Lindgren seeking to improve on his best career finish of runner-up.

The local hero here was supposed to be Costantino Rocca, who was unfairly cast in some quarters as the villain of Europe's Ryder Cup defeat last year. He was originally going to skip his national Open and accept an invitation to play in Jack Nicklaus's Memorial Tournament this week, but patriotic counsel prevailed and he changed his mind.

Apart from anything else, this tournament was in a financial pickle until the PGA European Tour took a 50 per cent stake in it, so the presence of Italy's pre-eminent golfer was especially important. In recent weeks, the omnipresent Silvio Berlusconi - the Italian prime minister and owner of AC Milan and countless television stations - has helped to secure the title sponsor, Tisettanta, a furniture company which produces a range of goods under the distinctly quotidian brand name of 'Halifax'. If they begin exporting to the UK, expect a name-change.

Rocca might now be having regrets about having cancelled his American plane reservations, since at three over par he may not even end the week as low Italian.

The best-placed star player was always going to be Jose Maria Olazabal, the only one of Europe's 'Big Six' in attendance. But he stumbled to a 74 yesterday and is at one under par. He expressed dissatisfaction with his swing, but the last time he moaned about it, he was only two months away from winning the Masters. He will be consulting John Jacobs, whose advice has been invaluable to Olazabal lately, during the PGA Championship at Wentworth next week.

On Wednesday we should get confirmation of the venue for the 1997 Ryder Cup. With Seve Ballesteros in hot dispute with the tour over its handling of the subject, and in hot form on the course, and with Bernhard Langer defending his title, Ian Woosnam making his first British appearance of the season and Nick Faldo attempting to rediscover his game, it should be an eventful week.

(Photograph omitted)

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