Golf: Lane taking the high road: Tim Glover reports from Dubai on the golfer who has found his range in the desert and looks set for a Ryder Cup place

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The Independent Online
DURING the Dubai Desert Classic at the imposing Emirates course, Mark James remarked that back in England bookmakers were offering even money on Barry Lane getting into the European Ryder Cup team for the match against the United States at The Belfry in September. He took the view that the men with the leather satchels and the loud suits were being unduly generous. 'They'll get knocked over in the stampede,' he said.

James volunteered his comments long before the outcome of the championship here in which Lane finished joint third with Seve Ballesteros, three strokes behind the South African Wayne Westner. Lane, 32 from Binfield in Berkshire, won pounds 22,520 to increase his lead in the Ryder Cup points table. Almost as soon as the European Tour increased the number of tournaments which count towards Ryder Cup selection, Lane made his move. He won the German Masters last season and was runner-up in two other events.

The result here on Sunday pushed his Ryder Cup points to a few pounds short of pounds 242,000 and, as James observed, the former assistant professional would appear to be heavily odds-on to make his debut in the biennial competition against the United States. Lane, however, does not quite see it that way. 'I think it's going to take a lot more money to get into the team than everybody thinks,' he said. 'To qualify you may need to win in the region of pounds 340,000. I won't be happy until I've won pounds 370,000.'

Lane, who went to the Tour's qualifying school on seven occasions - 'I always remind myself that Ian Woosnam went through a similar thing before his career took off' - played some of the best golf of his career in the first three rounds here. Ballesteros, who partnered him in the third round, said of Lane: 'He's going to have a good year. He's become a very confident player.'

Not over-confident. 'I've still got a long way to go,' Lane said. 'You only get recognition for winning tournaments and until I regularly win a couple a year I wouldn't say that I had arrived.'

Westner, the longest hitter on tour, led from round two. It may be Ryder Cup year but it does not deter the South Africans from enhancing their bank balances. Retief Goosen, who will be 24 this week, finished second and apart from receiving pounds 44,440, earned an invitation to the Johnnie Walker Asian Classic which starts in Singapore on Thursday.

Ballesteros was as happy as a sand boy. 'I finished eight strokes in front of Nick Faldo,' he said, pumping the air with his fist. Five weeks ago he finished last in the Johnnie Walker World Championship in Jamaica which Faldo won. 'I've put in a lot of hard work at home,' Ballesteros said. His scores of 71, 68, 69 and 69 formed the most consistent sequence he had put together since winning in the desert 12 months ago.

Faldo, whose lowest finish last year was 23rd, was joint 26th here and he put in a considerable amount of overtime on the practice putting green. At times he vented his frustration on the course with a few expletives which were not deleted from the attention of a lady marshall. 'He may be a millionaire,' she remarked, 'but he's no gentleman.'

Westner, a born-again Christian who believes his faith has helped him to become a stronger player, has almost as much respect for Faldo as he does for God. 'He is an unbelievable human being,' Westner said. 'He is the most dedicated player I've ever seen and people pulverise him for it. If he wasn't dedicated they'd pulverise him for that.' Westner, beaten by Faldo in a play-off for the Irish Open last year, paid tribute to his coach, Bob Torrance.

'My aim,' he said, 'is to make the top 50 in the world this year and the top 10 next year. I had a lot of talent as a youngster but because we were shielded from sport in South Africa for so long we never knew exactly how good we were. I'm beginning to believe in myself again.'

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