Golf: Ryder aim for Olazabal

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With five of the top six European Ryder Cup players featuring in the Italian Open, which begins in Brescia today, there could be a flurry of place-swapping by Sunday night.

But most interest will be centred on two men not in those lofty positions: Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal and Bernhard Langer of Germany.

Neither player has many more than a dozen tournaments left this year to qualify for the event. After playing two tournaments Olazabal still has to rest his rehabilitating feet after his 18-month injury layoff and Langer is committed elsewhere than the European Tour.

Both, however, are aware of the need to qualify automatically in a top- 10 ranking by 31 August when the team is selected, but will not alter their playing schedules. "I have to think about my feet, so I won't be playing any more than two weeks at a time," said Olazabal, who is currently 15th in the Ryder rankings.

He is playing his second successive event after last week's Spanish Open 11th place, before his usual rest period, then is appearing for two tournaments in Britain - the Open and the PGA Championship - before another rest before his build-up to the US Open.

Langer's seventh place in the US Masters largely helped him to 13th position in the Cup table and he is seeking a victory soon - something he did not achieve on the European Tour last year for the first time in 17 years - so that his Ryder place will be almost a formality.

"I only have 10 or 11 events left before the team is chosen, so it leaves me far more limited than most players on attaining automatic selection," Langer said. "But I try to pick up good points every week and then I know just one win will get me into the team. Nobody can expect a wild card by right so that has to be the aim - or a good few top-fives."

They are not the only ones who are aiming for the first prize of 78,330 points. Ian Woosnam, who is suffering putting problems which, he claimed, spoiled his US Masters bid, is another who can benefit in the table by taking the top prize, the Welshman lying eighth in the points table.

Jim Payne, of England, defends his title at Brescia, while the home favourite Costantino Rocca (second in the Ryder Cup points table) from just down the road at Bergamo where Payne won last year, is strongly favoured to carry off victory. Miguel Martin (third in the table), Thomas Bjorn (fourth), Paul Broadhurst (fifth) and Darren Clarke (sixth) all join the battle for cup points.