Golf: Spanish think positive again

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The Independent Online
SEVERIANO BALLESTEROS, slowly if not necessarily surely, is beginning to find a degree of consistency in a season of mind-boggling mediocrity. The decline of the maestro has been so pronounced that yesterday's modest score of 70 in the third round of the Carrolls Irish Open represented something of a moral

victory.

This classic piece of Americana in the middle of County Kilkenny - Mount Juliet was designed by Jack Nicklaus and built with a cast of thousands at a cost of millions - found a chord in Ballesteros's tangled game and mind.

The pertinent point about Ballesteros's round, which left him at level par, is that he had 16 pars and two birdies. For the first time since the Desert Classic in Dubai in January Ballesteros did not have a bogey on his card. 'I've been missing too many fairways, too many greens and too many putts,' Ballesteros said. 'I've been fighting a tendency to drive the ball left off the tee and it's been driving me crazy.'

This week he is using his 10th different driver of the year - 'more than I've used in the previous 18 years' - and at least he kept the ball in play. In fact he is becoming downright boring. He kept hitting greens in regulation but the noticeable difference between this Seve and the old one is that he was settling for the safe first putt and the safe par. Nevertheless Ballesteros, who has the best Ryder Cup record of any of the Europeans, announced that if he did not qualify for the team that plays the United States at The Belfry in September he would be 'honoured' to receive an invitation from Bernard Gallacher, the non-playing captain. Thus far he has only pounds 80,000 in the Cup account and he would need about four times that by the end of August to get in on merit.

Jose-Maria Olazabal has also had a relatively disappointing year in that he has not won anything apart from about three times the Prime Minister's salary. However, he could win here and come to think of it he could win the Open Championship at Royal St George's, Sandwich, the week after next. Olazabal was third in the Open at Muirfield last year, behind Nick Faldo and John Cook.

Leading by one stroke from the Irishman John McHenry after the second round, Olazabal pushed on yesterday, going to the turn in 34 with two birdies. He finished with a 71 for an aggregate of 207, nine under par. Olazabal squandered a two-stroke lead at the notorious last when he took a double-bogey six to McHenry's bogey five. The pair will play together again today after sharing the limelight at the top of the leaderboard.

Faldo, who began the day three strokes behind, lost ground as did Bernhard Langer. Colin Montgomerie scored a hole in one at the 11th where, from 160 yards, he hit a seven iron straight into the hole without even a bounce.

CARROLLS IRISH OPEN (Mount Juliet, Co Kilkenny): Leading third-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 207 J McHenry 67 70 70; J-M Olazabal (Sp) 69 67 71. 209 P-U Johansson (Swe) 69 68 72. 210 O Karlsson (Swe) 71 67 72. 211 D Frost (SA) 74 69 68; J Haeggman (Swe) 71 68 72; N Faldo 72 67 72; S Richardson 71 68 72. 212 S Bowman (US) 70 71 71; C Rocca (It) 71 70 71. 213 D Smyth 73 70 70; B Langer (Ger) 68 69 76. 214 R Rafferty 76 71 67; M James 72 70 72; B Marchbank 66 76 72; M Farry (Fr) 72 66 76. 215 P McGinley 75 71 69; C Montgomerie 74 71 70; R Davis (Aus) 71 73 71; R McFarlane 72 72 71; D W Basson (SA) 70 73 72; I Woosnam 71 72 72; P Broadhurst 72 71 72; W Westner (SA) 73 69 73; S Luna (Sp) 68 71 76. Selected: 216 S Ballesteros (Sp) 73 73 70.

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