Golf: Rocca poised to make the grade: Tim Glover reports from the Forest of Arden

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The Independent Online
A FORMER caddie, a pasta master - he makes his own, is poised to become the first Italian to play in the Ryder Cup. Costantino Rocca is not a big name in America. He is not even a big name in Bergamo, the small town between Milan and Verona where he carried clubs and then learnt to use them. He will be 37 in December and is therefore something of an ageing Rocca but barring a disaster in the final round of the Murphy's English Open at the Forest of Arden today he will face the United States in the big match at The Belfry next month.

Rocca established a course record of 64 in the third round yesterday after competing in a tremendous two ball with Ian Woosnam who shot 65. Rocca is seventh in the Ryder Cup table, Woosnam 10th and both could secure their places today when they will again be paired together. Considering they produced 13 birdies and an eagle between them, Rocca and Woosnam could be a formidable partnership. They began the day at six under par and Rocca finished at 14 under, to lead by one from Woosnam and Jose Maria Canizares.

'Over the last few years he's come on leaps and bounds,' Woosnam said of the Italian. Rocca went off like a rocket yesterday, opening his round with four successive birdies. He holed from 14 feet at the first, from seven feet at the second, chipped in from 25 yards at the third and holed another seven footer at the fourth. Woosnam's response at the long, par-five third was an eagle three drive, three wood, 25 foot putt. The Welshman birdied the fifth, sixth and seventh holes and, but for finding the rough on the ninth, he would have matched Rocca's score. Rocca went out in 31, Woosnam in 32 and they had three birdies apiece over the back nine to come home in 33.

The scoring dumbfounded Michael King, who helped redesign this course at a cost of pounds 1m. 'Either we haven't made it difficult enough or it just shows how good these players are,' King he said. If Woosnam is in the top three here he will not play in the German Open next week, the last event that counts towards qualification.

Bernard Gallacher, the captain of the European team, is currently on holiday but he will have an eye on the Forest of Arden. Gallacher, who has three selections in addition to the nine that automatically qualify, has a conundrum to solve next week. The equation involves Seve Ballesteros, who has been playing badly, Jose Maria Olazabal, who has been playing badly, Peter Baker, who played badly yesterday, Ronan Rafferty, who has suddenly started to play well, Joakim Haeggman, who has played well for most of the year, Steven Richardson, who has played well this week, Paul Broadhurst who played poorly on Friday but did reasonably well in the third round and Sam Torrance who has been going along like a train until he went sleep walking on Tuesday night, collided with a plant pot and withdrew from this tournament after a painful first round.

If the Walker Cup debacle at Interlachen, where Great Britain and Ireland went down to a record defeat on Thursday, taught Gallacher anything it is that he must be wary of going to The Belfry with an inexperienced team. Broadhurst and Richardson both performed creditably in the last Ryder Cup match at Kiawah Island two years ago.

In order to ensure that the players look the part, all the leading contenders have been measured for the Ryder Cup wardrobe. This has nothing to do with the South African Wayne Westner and perhaps it is just as well. Yesterday Westner hit his second shot at the 17th on to an island. He took off his trousers, changed into waterproofs and waded, chest high, across the lake to play his ball. He found three alien balls before his own, chipped from the island on to the green and salvaged his par five. 'In this game every stroke is money,' Westner said. Tell it to the men who have been measured by the Ryder Cup tailor.

Results, Sport in Short, page 23

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