Golf: Men pull clear by a distance

Catherine Riley in Praia d'el Rey sees the Seniors steal a march over the women
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AS BATTLES of the sexes go, the European Cup - a match play event between the PGA Senior Tour men and the LPGA European Tour women - might not have the same pulling power as Billie Jean King versus Bobby Riggs, but it has generated a fair amount of interest, or at least it had until the men stormed into a seven and a half to two and a half lead going into today's singles.

To rank as a spectacle an event must have an element of competition and also some spectators. While team events have grown in popularity - witness the success of this year's Ryder Cup in Valderrama in September - this match is perhaps more a vehicle to establish this club as a championship venue, rather than the European Cup as a serious contest.

The resort is still under construction and in some areas it is hard to differentiate the bunkers from the builder's sand, while on Friday, Trish Johnson had been forced to putt to the sound of whistling - not birds but a Beatles medley from the workmen on a neighbouring block of flats.

Valle de Janelas, about 60 miles north of Lisbon, is a beautiful setting for this impressive links, with the Atlantic Ocean providing a glorious backdrop to several holes. Yet this weekend it has been one of the dampest of courses after heavy rain in the preceding fortnight had turned many of the fairways into impromptu water traps. As Alison Nicholas picked her way down from the first tee, she hitched her trousers up above her ankles grateful that the lack of an audience had prevented the course turning to mud.

Should the curtain ever come down on the tobacco companies' sponsorship of Formula One they may find a new home on the Seniors Tour. Jose Maria Canizares appeared at the first, cigarette in hand, the caddies were rarely without one and Maurice Bembridge could be located by the smoke signals rising from his pipe. This was laid down behind him whenever he took a swing and was there to be sucked furiously or puffed contemplatively, depending on the shot.

Although no one was quite arrogant - or maybe brave - enough to say it, the men had come expectant of victory. It was therefore something of a shock when they found themselves level after the first day.

The rout that many had privately predicted began to unfold yesterday, however. While it was considered the differing tee lengths for the two sexes were correct on Friday, the men's tees had been moved forward. Given the furious breeze that had picked up there was never any chance that yesterday was going to see an even contest. Of the five fourball pairings, the women won just eight holes while the men finished the day thirty-three under. A fair contest?

"It was not what I expected," Tommy Horton, the men's captain, said. "I think the wind was a factor. We were putting for birdies while the girls were never threatening the hole. We expect the men's tees to go a bit further back tomorrow but the girls will come back firing."

The women were firing sooner than expected as their captain, Marie-Laure de Lorenzi, complained to the organisers about the set-up. "We did not think it was fair. It was too long for us and too short for them. They had an advantage and it's a shame because we wanted to have a match as level and as friendly as possible. I feel bad for everyone because the results didn't show we are good players."