Golf: James wary of swing success

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The Independent Online
THE RYDER CUP captain, Mark James, continued to surprise himself yesterday by taking a share of third place after the first round of the Qatar Masters in Doha. A five-under-par 67 left the 45-year-old James only a stroke behind the leaders, Raymond Russell and Marc Farry, and came just three days after he finished joint third in the Dubai Desert Classic.

"I'm suspicious of this form," said the Ilkley-based golfer, whose 1998 season ended with his arm in a sling after he tore a shoulder muscle during the Volvo Masters. "I didn't practice until the middle of January but the swing just seems to have clicked into place. It's too easy at the moment and obviously it's going to disappear soon."

Even if it does not, James insists there is no way he will be a playing captain against the Americans in Boston in September.

Lucky to be out on the superb Doha course before the wind picked up, James' third shot was a 45-yard chip to the long 10th which went in for an eagle three. Five birdies were to follow, but two bogeys cost him top place as he began his chase for a 19th European Tour title but his first since the 1997 Spanish Open.

Russell also had an eagle - at the 319-yard 16th, where players have to try to drive over a huge limestone rock in front of the green. The 26-year-old Scot's effort carried the rock only to finish in rough 60 feet from the flag, but he chipped in and returned an inward half of 30.

"I had a month in Australia, which I felt was a good way to prepare for the new season," said Russell, who last year was laid low with hepatitis.

Farry had missed four half-way cuts in a row but rounded off his best day's work of the year with three birdies in four holes.

Not so fortunate is the Hampshire 18-year-old Justin Rose, who finished with 76 and is in danger of an horrendous 14th successive missed cut as a professional. Rose had an eight on his card for the second week running - his third shot to the 521-yard 10th finished on a cart path and because the nearest point of relief was in a bush he played it but took three more shots to make the green. He probably now needs a 69 to survive.

Seve Ballesteros was in trouble as well with a 77, but his playing partner Eduardo Romero had a day to remember, holing his seven-iron tee shot to the 161-yard 17th and winning a BMW sports car .

Ian Woosnam, John Bickerton, Ross McFarlane and Paul Lawrie are in the group on 68, while the American Bob May fought back from an opening bogey six to join James on five under.

The defending champion, Andrew Coltart, fought on bravely to birdie the last three holes for a 71 while David Howell, the runaway winner of last week's Dubai Desert Classic, came back to earth with a 72.

Scores, Digest, page 29