Golf: Smyth is back in front line

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DES SMYTH was the surprise first-round leader in the Turespana Masters in Cadiz yesterday. The affable 40-year-old Irishman, playing without the benefit of a practice round, produced an error-free 67 to overtake a group of three players on 68.

Smyth's five-under-par round set a record for the Novo Sancti Petri course on the day when the course designer, Seve Ballesteros, was 10 shots off the pace.

'They say life begins at 40. Well, it seems to be coming true for me,' said Smyth, who skipped a practice round yesterday in order to spend an extra day with his family in Ireland. He arrived in Cadiz at 10pm on the eve of the event and faced the added handicap of playing in the final group out on the course when the greens were starting to 'spike up'.

Smyth, a Ryder Cup player, took the lead with the help of a birdie and two superb eagles. He holed a 15-yard bunker shot to spark his round into life at the long eighth, then added a second eagle three with a towering three- wood 220 yards over water to 45 feet at the 11th.

It is almost five years since Smyth's last tournament victory in the Jersey Open - and almost as long since he held the lead in a European event. 'I honestly can't remember when I was in this position,' said Smyth, who leads by one stroke from the Spaniard, Miguel Martin, Eduardo Romero, of Argentina, and the Swede, Anders Gillner.

'I've been in the doldrums for two years,' Smyth said. 'There's been no spark in my game and it's been dreadfully disappointing. When you play so poorly you wonder if you will ever come out of the slump. This is only the first round and I'm not getting too excited.'

Smyth, who last year passed pounds 1m in tour earnings, conceded that his preparation was far from ideal but explained: 'I'd been away for two weeks and I wanted more time with my family. I've been 20 years on this tour and I know my priorities.'

Smyth's main rivals shot 68 and, in two cases, did so despite physical ailments. Martin had six birdies but faced a visit to the doctor because of earache and a sore case of tennis elbow. Romero, who had told Ballesteros that the course could have been designed with him in mind, is suffering from a septic finger on his left hand which makes gripping the club uncomfortable.

In the end, it made little difference to the scoring of both players, while Ballesteros refused to use a back problem as an excuse for his round of 77. 'It was just a bad day - I played poorly,' he said. The bad day started early, Ballesteros hooking his opening drive out of bounds on the way to a triple-bogey seven.

Ballesteros's Ryder Cup compatriot, Jose-Maria Olazabal, hinted at a return to form with two eagles and three birdies in a round of 71. The German, Bernhard Langer, fired a respectable 70 on his tournament debut for 1993, while the powerful Englishman Steven Richardson is among a cluster of players handily placed after an opening 69.

TURESPANA MASTERS (Cadiz): Leading first-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 67 D Smyth. 68 M Martin (Sp), A Gillner (Swe), E Romero (Arg). 69 J Haeggman (Swe), I Palmer (SA), S Richardson. 70 M Gates, A Garrido (Sp), B Langer (Ger), J Rozadilla (Sp), P Way, P Fulke (Swe), A Oldcorn, G Orr. 71 R Berhorst (Ger), W Westner (SA), P Mayo, E O'Connell, D Mijovic (Can), J-M Olazabal (Sp), J Rivero (Sp). 72 G Turner (NZ), M Sunesson (Swe), C Moody, C Montgomerie, M Jiminez (Sp), M Ames (Tri), M Besanceney (Fr), R Rafferty, G Levenson (SA), S Rey (Swit), V Fernandez (Arg), J Payne. 73 P Mitchell, J Coceres (Arg), B Marchbank, G J Brand, J Hobday, D Ray, O Sellberg (Swe), M Mackenzie, J-M Canizares (Sp), M Mouland, S Little, T Pernice (US), I Gervas (Sp), J Parnevik (Swe), D Williams. 74 J Robson, R Lee, S McAllister, R Boxall, Y Beamonte (Sp), D Cooper, S Torrance, R Chapman, M Lanner (Swe), A Hare, J Carriles (Sp), C Cassells, R Alvarez (Arg), M Poxon, A Lebouc (Fr), O Karlsson (Swe), C Mason, R Mann.

----------------------------------------------------------------- CARD OF THE COURSE ----------------------------------------------------------------- Hole Yards Par Hole Yards Par 1st 423 4 10th 447 4 2nd 444 4 11th 512 5 3rd 535 5 12th 447 4 4th 197 3 13th 348 4 5th 454 4 14th 392 4 6th 406 4 15th 354 4 7th 212 3 16th 227 3 8th 526 5 17th 533 5 9th 358 4 18th 204 3 Out: 3,555 36 In: 3,464 36 Total: 7,019 72 -----------------------------------------------------------------