GOLF: O'Malley's stroke of good fortune

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GOLF

TIM GLOVER

reports from St Mellion

Peter O'Malley won the Benson and Hedges International Open here yesterday by a stroke. It could well have been by the stroke of luck he had at the second where he blocked his drive so far right his ball clattered into the garden wall of a private house. O'Malley should pay a portion of his prize of £108,330 to a Cornish bricklayer.

O'Malley's ball, which had sailed into out of bounds territory at the second, recoiled from the wall into play and he salvaged par. He had begun and finished with a bogey but two birdies at the 12th and 13th were sufficient to keep him on course. O'Malley had laid the foundations of his victory with opening rounds of 68 and 65 and it is a measure of the toughness of St Mellion that he could win with final rounds of 74 and 73.

He led by two going into the last round from Costantino Rocca and Carl Mason, by three from Mark James and by six from Colin Montgomerie. Of those on the leaderboard prior to the fourth round only Montgomerie made real headway, coming home in 31. It was a day too late.

At various stages yesterday O'Malley's lead evaporated: Mason led at eight under par for the tournament after four; James led at eight under after eight and Rocca also got his noble Roman nose in front over the back nine. On Saturday evening, after a course record 63 put him into contention, Mason said to his caddie, Martin Rowley: "We're going to have another day in the pressure cooker," Rowley replied: "That's what we're here for."

Mason had four bogeys, three birdies and over the inward nine it was Rocca who had the best chance to deprive O'Malley. The Italian, however, appears to have an Achilles' heel. He missed a short putt at the penultimate hole in the Ryder Cup at The Belfry two years ago and yesterday he missed from three feet for a birdie at the 16th - he hurled his ball away in disgust - and compounded that with putting lapses at the 17th and 18th. By that time he was an aged Rocca.

O'Malley, an Australian with Irish ancestors, has bought a house in Bracknell. He thinks his forebears come from Cork but he would not swear on it and he thinks his mortgage is around £90,000 but he is not sure about that either. His record here had been so abysmal he had made the cut only once, in 1992, the year he won the Scottish Open. In between he had won nothing and lost his sponsors. Now his agents, IMG, will re-negotiate from a position of strength.

Earlier Sandy Lyle, a Scotsman who sounds English, and Andy Oldcorn, an Englishman who is based in Edinburgh and who sounds Scottish, came in with 65s. A few days ago those scores would have equalled the course record. Lyle hit more banks than Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and he made the most of his lucky breaks. He had just 24 putts in his round - about the last time he had done that Francis Drake was setting sail for Nova Albion.

"It was a bit like the old Lyle," Lyle said. "I proved to myself I can still do it. I have been playing terribly. It's not that I haven't been trying but I've been making about 34 putts a round. You've got to be below 30." At the 18th we saw the old/new Lyle: a huge drive, a nine-iron to within three feet of the flag and a missed putt.

After the third round Seve Ballesteros fired a broadside at the Tour - he usually keeps some ammunition warm for the chilly early months of the circuit - in response to their latest decision to encompass Australia as well as South Africa next year. "There is no point in calling it the European Tour," he said. "I would go for just 30 tournaments instead of 38. I would have them in Europe on very good courses and that would ensure most of the top players would stay in Europe."

Ballesteros, with a couple of layers of sweaters, was the defending champion at the Benson and Hedges but this was only his fourth appearance in Europe in 15 events. Yesterday Bernard Gallacher, Europe's Ryder Cup captain, said: "Both South Africa and Australia approached Europe to stage joint events. I wouldn't cut the schedule at all but to satisfy the top players I would designate certain events to carry Ryder Cup points then Seve wouldn't have to go all over the place. Even if Houdini was working for us he wouldn't come up with new sponsors at the moment."

n Kelly Robbins, of the United States, overcame a three-shot deficit over the final seven holes yesterday to win the McDonalds LPGA Championship in Wilmington, Delaware, by one stroke over Britain's Laura Davies, the defending champion. Robbins secured victory with a two-foot par putt on the 18th, finishing on a 10-under 274.

BENSON AND HEDGES INTERNATIONAL OPEN (St Mellion, Cornwall): Leading final scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 280 P O'Malley (Aus) 68 65 74 73. 281 M James 71 68 71 71; C Rocca (It) 72 73 64 72. 282 A Oldcorn 70 74 73 65; C Montgomerie 67 71 75 69; C Mason 71 75 63 73. 284 S Lyle 71 77 71 65; W Westner (SA) 74 73 71 66; S Tinning (Den) 68 78 70 68. 285 E Darcy 69 73 74 69; J M Olazabal (Sp) 70 74 71 70. 286 R Burns 76 67 73 70; P Broadhurst 68 77 70 71; G Evans 70 73 71 72. 287 J Coceres (Arg) 73 73 71 70; R Wessels (SA) 73 73 71 70; M Campbell (NZ) 78 70 67 72; P Senior (Aus) 69 74 71 73. 288 B Lane 74 71 73 70; D Cooper 76 73 69 70; F Nobilo (NZ) 73 71 73 71; S Struver (Ger) 73 73 71 71; R Boxall 68 73 73 74; B Langer (Ger) 74 70 70 74. 289 S Torrance 71 73 75 70; M Farry (Fr) 75 72 71 71. 290 A Sherborne 74 75 72 69; M A Jimenez (Sp) 75 73 70 72, P Affleck 71 77 69 73.

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