Golf: Masters campaign starts in earnest

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reports from Miami

Although $9.75m (£6.3m) in official prize-money has been earned and doled out already in 1995 on the US PGA Tour, for most of the top names, the season really begins today with the first round of the Doral Open. For many, this week is their first in the United States this year; for others it is just their second or third.

The presence of Europeans like Seve Ballesteros, Colin Montgomerie, Bernhard Langer and Nick Faldo adds to the importance of this week, as well as Ernie Els and Greg Norman, both of whom have been little- seen hitherto.

There are a few significant absentees, notably Nick Price, who will start his Masters run-up next week, Jose Maria Olazabal, still recovering from foot surgery, and Fred Couples, who pulled out yesterday as a precautionary measure because last week he aggravated the back injury he had here at Doral last year.

Although Doral, with its strong field and challenging course, provides plenty of motivation to play well and win, most players are competing here with Augusta National looming large.

"I'm supposed to be playing in Spain this week," Ballesteros said. "In fact it is my tournament in Spain this week, and I feel kind of guilty that I am not there, but I changed my schedule to try a little different way to prepare for the Masters. That is the most important thing."

n Jose-Maria Olazabal, who played his last tournament three months ago, begins his competitive comeback at the Andalucia Open in Huelva, Spain, today just four weeks after having the bone in the big toe of his right foot shortened.