Golf: Olazabal closes on Ryder place

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The Independent Online


reports from Straffan, Co Kildare

A crucial 10-foot putt was holed on the K Club's 18th green yesterday, but by Jose Maria Olazabal rather than Per-Ulrik Johansson, who comfortably retained his European Open title with a six-stroke victory over Peter Baker.

Johansson, who closed with a final-round 69, did not drop a shot over the last 54 holes and the pounds 141,660 first prize secured the Swede's second appearance in the Ryder Cup. He jumped to fifth on the qualifying table after his second win of the season.

Most significant, however, was Olazabal's putt at the last. The Spaniard only qualified for the weekend on the cut-off mark, but then raised himself to share third place with Raymond Russell on 14 under with scores of 67 and 65. With Padraig Harrington's 72 leaving him on three under, Olazabal moved past the Dubliner into 11th place on the points list by pounds 21,944.

With Miguel Angel Martin, now 10th, not expected to play for the rest of the season because of a tendon injury in his wrist, the 11th place will qualify automatically after this week's BMW International in Munich. Olazabal had not done the arithmetic, but his instinct about the significance of the birdie putt at the 18th was revealed when he punched the air with delight.

"I don't think I have done that since I won the World Series in 1994," Olazabal said. "I knew I needed to birdie the last." He had just missed from six feet at the 17th, but, overall, the performance was one of a man returning to full confidence. For the second day running he went to the turn in 31 and also birdied the 15th when his eight-iron approach hit the bottom of the pin.

"A good round like this and you stand on the first tee next time with a different approach," he said. Automatic qualification would allow the captain, Seve Ballesteros, a wider choice for his two wild cards, which would then probably go to Nick Faldo and Jesper Parnevik.

Faldo, playing in the World Series in America, made a plea over the weekend for Ballesteros to reveal his thinking. "There are seven billion people on his planet so why can't he tell just one person - me," Faldo said. "Tell Seve, he can call me collect."

This is rich indeed. While it is hard to believe that a nod or a wink has not passed between Olazabal and Ballesteros, the captain has not spoken a word on his intentions to anyone. Nor will he do so before his team announcement on Sunday. Tell one person and you might as well tell the world, is his attitude.

Faldo, who is hosting the final of his Junior Series competition at the Forest of Arden this week, will have to await his fate, like Parnevik and anyone else who may be in Ballesteros' mind. The only people who deserve to know they will definitely be teeing up at Valderrama prior to the end of the qualifying are those who have automatically earned the right like Montgomerie, who will finish top of the list, and now Johansson.

Rocca failed to guarantee his place by slipping to a closing 73, but Baker, a strong performer in the 1993 match, gave himself a chance to qualify by winning this week after rising from 38th to 20th on the points list.

Johansson, who lives in Marbella, won with a total of 267, 10 shots lower than when he won here last September, while 21 under par is a record for the European Tour this year. "My ball-striking has never as good as this before," he said.

Final round scores, Digest, page 23