Golf: Ryder priority for Ballesteros

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The Independent Online
SEVE BALLESTEROS, who ended a wretched 1992 by finishing last in the Johnnie Walker World Championship in Jamaica, began 1993 in a more optimistic vein, but he still finished last. Ballesteros played a nine-hole challenge match against Nick Faldo, Isao Aoki, of Japan, and South Africa's Ernie Els to mark the opening of the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club yesterday. Dubai appears to be bidding to become a mini-Dallas of the Middle East and this spectacular development is the latest piece in the jigsaw.

Els, who made an impact in the Open Championship at Muirfield last summer, won yesterday's encounter, played to a stableford format, from, in descending order, Aoki, Faldo and Ballesteros. The Spaniard finished double-bogey, double-bogey, and was then kept waiting at a joint press conference for the arrival of Faldo. 'I don't know where he is,' Ballesteros said. 'Maybe he's with David Leadbetter trying to find out why he hit the ball into the water on the par three.' When Faldo arrived, Ballesteros led the applause.

Ballesteros, completely overshadowed last year by Faldo, has taken a quarter of an inch off all his irons and more than that from around his waist. He has been plagued by back trouble since 1977 and his latest course of treatment, recommended by an American physiotherapist, is 'pelvis establishisation'. It involves two hours and 20 minutes of exercise every day and he does the oddest things with a giant elastic band and a door frame. Room service waiters are advised to knock twice and leave the muesli in the corridor.

'I'm not 100 per cent,' Ballesteros said, 'but I feel much stronger.' Europe renews battle with the United States for the Ryder Cup at The Belfry in September and Bernard Gallacher, the captain, has said that he cannot imagine a European team without Ballesteros. Had it taken place last year, Ballesteros would have made the team only as one of Gallacher's three selections. 'I don't know why people keep speculating about this,' Ballesteros said. 'I have as much chance of being in the team as anybody. I am very confident I will qualify on merit.'

In 1991 Ballesteros headed the Order of Merit on the European Tour. Last season he won the Desert Classic here at the Emirates GC - he begins his defence of the title tomorrow - but then his form deserted him, culminating in the fiasco in Jamaica where he five- putted for a score of 10 at the 10th hole in the second round.

Ballesteros, in a concerted drive to qualify for the Ryder Cup team, will play six tournaments in Europe and none in America before the Masters at Augusta in April.

Both the Emirates GC and the Creek complex are designed by the American Karl Litten. The design of the clubhouse is taken from the Arab tent; the Creek from the lines of a sailing dhow. The Creek, however, has an additional feature: thousands of seagulls, and they are uninvited guests.

'Some people have taken a pop at them with a gun but it hasn't had much effect,' a member said. Three dead seagulls were hung from poles and positioned around the 18th green which, adjacent to water, is a popular meeting place for the gulls. That macabre measure succeeded only temporarily in moving the birds to another part of the course. Noise from horns has also proved ineffective, and now the club is talking about fighting feather with feather by unhooding a squadron of falcons.

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