Golf: Martin back in Ryder reckoning

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The Independent Online
"Thank God, it'll all be over on Sunday," said Colin Montgomerie as he boarded his plane for Munich. Monty, who, like US Open champion Ernie Els, is one of the few lucky ones at the BMW International not concerned about his Ryder Cup place, captured the right mood concerning the year- long qualification process and the (almost as long) speculation over Seve Ballesteros's two wild cards.

But as a statement of fact, the Scot's words could yet prove erroneous. There is a possibility that Ballesteros, the European captain, will not name his additional selections even after the 10 who have earned automatic places at Valderrama are confirmed at the weekend.

Any delay will centre on the fitness of Miguel Angel Martin, whose wrist tendon injury was expected to prevent him from playing for the rest of the season. The Spaniard, who won the Heineken Classic in Perth in February, has been in the top 10 on the points list ever since the qualifying started last September.

But he has been slipping down the standings since he pulled out of the World Invitational at Loch Lomond, and then aggravated the injury by playing in the Open with a cortisone injection, against the advice of the Open doctor. An operation left Martin in plaster for three weeks.

In Ireland, a week ago, Ballesteros said: "Even if he makes the team, he will not be able to play." If one of the top 10 at the end of qualifying cannot play, the 11th man is automatically selected. By gaining that position after finishing joint third at the European Open on Sunday, Jose Maria Olazabal looked to have solved his captain's wild card puzzle.

Martin's cast was removed on Monday and when he spoke to Ballesteros on Tuesday, he indicated a desire to prove his fitness.

"Martin has not withdrawn," Ballesteros said. "If he qualifies, he has a right to play. He will have one week after Sunday to make a decision."

Should Martin remain 10th on the points list - and Olazabal just needs to finish 20th or better to pass him - Ballesteros may prolong the wait for Nick Faldo and Jesper Parnevik.

Olazabal and Padraig Harrington, who needs to be fifth to pass Martin, are best placed to make the team, but anyone down to Miguel Angel Jimenez in 23rd position could make the top 10. "I have no problem if anyone plays their way on to the team," Ballesteros said.

As for Faldo's complaint that he should have heard from the captain by now, Ballesteros said: "I made it very clear from the beginning that no one should have a wild card before the top 10 is decided. It is a disrespect to the other players."

Faldo, however, does not give up easily. "I've played more Ryder Cups than eight or nine of the automatic places put together," he said yesterday at Forest of Arden, near Coventry, where he is supporting his Junior Classic Series.

"Right from the pre-event dinner you can tell the youngsters what is going to happen. It can help elevate their games to a level they've never been before.

"We are underdogs again, and that is why we must draw on our experience. I very much want to be there. I've played 10 in a row and I don't think this should be my last."

Ballesteros plays today with Sam Torrance and Paul Broadhurst. Other team contenders are paired together. "There is enough pressure as it is," said Roger Chapman, who plays with Olazabal and Joakim Haeggman. Second place could be good enough for the Kenya-born golfer to qualify, something he has done six times in his winless career on tour.

Chapman, 38, was on the way to see his coach on Monday when his car, a BMW, spun off the road. He escaped shaken but unscathed. "I got a lesson over the phone instead and that seems to have worked," he said.

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