Golf: Olazabal clears the air as Ryder Cup countdown begins

Jose Maria Olazabal, who plays in the British Masters starting today, has made up with the man he replaces in next week's Ryder Cup. Andy Farrell reports
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The Independent Online
It's good to talk may not be the catchphrase of the telephone company sponsoring the One2One British Masters, but Jose Maria Olazabal agrees. Olazabal, one of eight European Ryder Cup players here at the Forest of Arden to warm up for next week's match at Valderrama, has cleared the air with Miguel Angel Martin, whose automatic qualifying place was handed to his countryman when he failed to report for a fitness test on his injured wrist.

"We have talked a few times by phone," Olazabal said. "I feel sorry for him because I know how tough it is not to be able to play. I don't want to comment on the decision, but the situation between us is clear. There are no hard feelings."

The Spaniard withdrew from the 1995 Ryder Cup with a foot injury which kept him out of the game for 18 months. "I missed it badly," he recalled. "It was tough to see it on TV when you wanted to be there. But I knew I had made the right decision. I could not cope with 36 holes a day and I was glad when the boys won the Cup for Europe."

Another who declined to play in the Ryder Cup, Sandy Lyle in 1989, is making a rare European appearance. "I never regretted making the decision to pull out," the Scot said. "I was playing so badly at the time and playing for a team makes it harder. "

Olazabal has been practising for 27 holes a day and is confident he can play twice a day, if required. He is looking for "four solid rounds" prior to Valderrama, but Colin Montgomerie, the leader of the European money list, said: "The Ryder Cup is next week's problem. My first priority is to try and win here."

This tournament has been moved from Collingtree Park, near Northampton, after the dire state of the greens there a year ago. But though advance reports of the greens at the Forest of Arden were not at all encouraging, they have improved greatly over the last two weeks.

Six Ryder Cup players, including Ian Woosnam, Colin Montgomerie and the Americans Brad Faxon and Phil Mickelson, line up in next month's Toyota World Match Play at Wentworth, where Ernie Els will defend the title for the third time. But the event is lacking three of the four major winners, Tiger Woods, Justin Leonard and Davis Love, plus Greg Norman and Nick Faldo.