Golf: Johansson on Ryder scent

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The Independent Online
Seve Ballesteros, the Ryder Cup captain, had a hand in the pairings for the first two days of the Smurfit European Open. He chose Per-Ulrik Johansson and Padraig Harrington, and while the captain missed the cut, and Harrington narrowly beat it, Johansson took the lead.

The Swede, who is the defending champion and was pleased that the event will remain at the K Club here for the next three years, scored the third 64 of the week, following Colin Montgomerie and Fredrik Jacobson. At 12 under, it took Johansson into the lead by one over the Scot.

Johansson is rarely fully pleased with his rounds of golf, saying that there are usually never more than three shots that he catches perfectly. In compiling eight birdies and not dropping a stroke, this round was different.

"There were probably 10 shots that came off exactly how I wanted and visualised," the 30-year-old said. "It was almost better than sex today. Don't tell my girlfriend."

Johansson can confirm a second Ryder Cup appearance tomorrow, and Rocca, who is sharing third place three strokes back, a third. The Italian will not take anything for granted. Last week at the US PGA, Rocca was two under for the first two days and 15 over for the weekend.

Hoping to do the reverse will be Jose Maria Olazabal, who only just made the cut at two under. True to his word, Ballesteros has not even revealed his thinking on who his two wild cards will be to his former partner. "All I know is what I read in the papers," Olazabal said.

Olazabal, of course, added that he knows better than to believe everything he reads. The pair, who won 11 of their 15 matches in partnership, have a policy of no "sorries" on the course and it is unlikely that, should the Spaniard not qualify automatically, Ballesteros will change the habit.

But after a 73, Olazabal needs to find a sparkle of confidence to pick up more than token prize money. "I just cannot score," he said. "One day it is the driving, the next it is the putting. It feels terrible. I have to wait until the bad spell goes away."

Away from major championships, Montgomerie gives the impression he can play with his eyes shut, and yesterday almost did. His American travels caught up with him to the extent that he got only two hours' sleep.

The Scot watched some old movies but did not take a sleeping pill. "I had to get up at six o'clock. I would rather play with no sleep than fall asleep," he said. Monty returned a 69 after hitting every fairway and every green. "I gave myself 18 opportunities," he said. However, making only one putt on the first four greens set the tone for the day.

"When you are tired it's the concentration on focusing the putts that is difficult," he said. "You get dizzy over the ball." He took to his bed in the afternoon for this is only the second of a run of 10 consecutive events, with the Ryder Cup in week seven.

Annika Sorenstam struggled with a windswept Osterakers course in Stockholm to complete a second round of 67 in the Compaq Open. It left Sorenstam a four-times winner on the LPGA Tour this year, at 10 under par on 134, three strokes clear of the American, Nancy Lopez. US Open champion Alison Nicholas was the leading British player in a chasing group on 143, nine strokes off the pace.

Scores, Digest, page 25