Golf: James keeps his Ryder distance

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The Independent Online
MARK JAMES, Europe's Ryder Cup captain, shot a five-under-par 67 in the first round of the Turespana Masters here yesterday to leave himself in a remarkable 12-way tie for second place. The leader was Switzerland's Paolo Quirici, who equalled the course record with round of a 65.

Quirici held a two-shot lead over a group of players that included Scotland's Gary Orr, Ian Garbutt and Roger Winchester. The 31-year-old, who was once advised to give up the game after it was discovered he is diabetic, shot nine birdies on his way to equalling the course record of 65, set by England's Gary Evans in 1992.

The local favourites also enjoyed a good day. Severiano Ballesteros shot a 71, Jose-Maria Olazabal a 72 and Sergio Garcia a 70. Miguel Angel Jimenez, the defending champion and a local resident, opened with a 69.

For James, the first round here over the Parador Del Golf course provided a chance to observe at first hand the form of John Bickerton, one of the outsiders for the 12-man European team to face America in September.

However, James insisted he did not ask to be paired with the in-form 29-year-old from Redditch, who finished second in the Portuguese Open last week. James, 45, revealed he could even deliberately avoid certain players who are in contention for a place in the European side to defend the Ryder Cup in Boston. This would be in contrast to the distinctly hands- on approach adopted by Ballesteros, his predecessor as captain, before Valderrama in 1997.

"I'm not changing any draw the whole year," James said. "I play with one guy or other just by pure chance. I don't want to be found pushing players who are on the edge anyway. They don't need it. If I do ask for something I may go the other way and ask not to be paired with somebody because I don't want to put pressure on them."

Any such pressure certainly did not seem to get to Bickerton, who has made the cut in all seven events so far this year. He has recorded two top-10 finishes, and lies 13th in the Ryder Cup standings. The Challenge Tour graduate continued his rich vein of form here with a first-round 68 but refused to look too far ahead.

"I'm not thinking about the Ryder Cup yet," he insisted. "It's a long, long way off but it was good to play with Mark for the first time - he was very good company. We had the best of the conditions and we had to take advantage of that. It was a good effort, but a few chances slipped by."

One player almost certain to be in Europe's Ryder Cup side is Darren Clarke, although the 30-year-old's indifferent start to the year continued here. Clarke shot a one-over-par 73 and headed straight for the practice ground, where he worked on his swing with Derrick Cooper, who, incidentally, had a hole-in-one on the sixth on his way to a 69.

Clarke, who was playing only his eighth round of the year, said: "I made a few stupid errors, missed five greens and it cost me five shots. But I'm much happier now after four valuable hours on the practice ground."