Golf: Main prize will elude early risers: Canizares and Johnstone in front as following pack fight for Ryder Cup places at English Open

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The Independent Online
THE GREAT Ryder Cup countdown, no doubt watched with bated breath from across the Atlantic, yesterday threw up two leaders who will have no part in the biennial match. Jose Maria Canizares is European, but has had such an anonymous season it is inconceivable that he will bother the scorers at The Belfry next month, while Tony Johnstone is not European. They both shot 66 in the first round of the Murphy's English Open.

Canizares, a former Ryder Cup man, is 46 and 153rd in the Volvo Order of Merit. He gave one of the briefest interviews yesterday. 'It will be a very strong Ryder Cup team,' the Spaniard said.

Compared to Ian Woosnam, Canizares was a chatterbox. The Welshman, who needs a good finish in this championship to qualify on merit for the Cup, had a wretched finish in the first round. He started at the 10th and was going along quite comfortably, with birdies at the 12th, 14th, seventh and eighth, to appear on the leaderboard at four-under par. Then he hooked his drive at the ninth, his last hole.

With trees and bushes left and right, the drive has to be nothing if not accurate and Woosnam, when he found his ball, had to declare it unplayable. He took a penalty drop, hacked out on to the fairway and was short of the green with his fourth shot. His chip came up seven feet shy and he never threatened the hole with his first putt. He recorded a triple-bogey seven to drop to one under. 'I have nothing to say,' he said.

Woosnam was playing with Johnstone and Sam Torrance. Torrance, sixth in the Ryder Cup table, shot 78 and it felt like 178. Earlier in the week a walk in the dark resulted in him going to hospital for an X-ray. He went sleepwalking in his hotel room and collided with a large plant pot. Although the only thing broken was the pot, Torrance was in agony yesterday. 'It was evil,' he said. 'I was grunting and groaning so much I sounded like Monica Seles.'

Torrance, who is bidding to play in his seventh Ryder Cup, will decide this morning whether to carry on. 'I'm taking painkillers and the physiotherapist has assured me that I can't do any more damage.' If Torrance plays in the second round he will experiment with a new driver. The one he has used for the past seven years has a crack at the top of the head and cannot be repaired. The timing could barely be worse. Despite his discomfort, Torrance sang the praises of the course at the Forest of Arden, which has radically improved since the press were invited to play it earlier this summer. 'It is a wonderful test of golf,' Torrance said, which explains why we found it virtually unplayable.

A stroke behind the leaders are Steven Richardson, who is 16th in the table, and Ian Garbutt. Richardson, who played in the Cup at Kiawah Island two years ago, is 16th in the table. 'I'm at the point of no return,' he said. 'I need a good result. I've been hitting the ball really badly for three months.' He took last week off and has been working, on the mental aspect of the game, with his father John. 'They're private things,' Richardson said.

Anders Forsbrand, who stands at two-over par following a 74, is 11th in the table and the leading Swede. He is also a leading firebrand and yesterday he was fined pounds 200 for throwing a club on the 18th hole.

MURPHY'S ENGLISH OPEN (Forest of Arden, Coventry) Leading first-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 66 J M Canizares (Sp), T Johnstone (Zim); 67 S Richardson, I Garbutt; 68 D Clarke, P Fowler (Aus), J M Carriles (Sp), R Winchester, P Way, P-U Johansson (Swe); 69 S Tinning (Den), P Curry, G Cali (It), P Eales, R Claydon, M James, M Roe, D Feherty, J Rivero (Sp), V Fernandez (Arg), J Robson, F Nobilo (NZ), B Lane, P Broadhurst, O Karlsson (Swe); 70 C Cassells, J Quiros (Sp), P Lawrie, S Ames (Trin), M McLean, G Orr, J Hawkes (SA), D W Basson (SA), B Marchbank, C O'Connor Jnr, P Mitchell, C Rocca (It), J Haeggman (Swe), D Gilford; Selected: 71 G Brand Jnr, J Spence, W Westner (SA), H Clark, I Woosnam; 72 R Davis (Aus), S Lyle, J Parnevik (Swe); 73 R Rafferty; 74 P Baker, A Forsbrand (Swe); 76 T Jacklin, P Oosterhuis; 78 S Torrance.

(Photograph omitted)