Golf: Sparkling Seve puts on style

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The Independent Online
HE MAY have a cold in the head but Seve Ballesteros had a hot putter in his hands at Woburn yesterday. He scored a seven-under-par 65 in the second round of the Dunhill British Masters and, on 134, 10- under overall, he leads Andrew Murray by two shots, Martin Gates by three and Colin Montgomerie and Greg Turner by four.

It was hard to believe that Ballesteros has won only one tournament in the past two and a half years. He has seldom been out of the headlines throughout that time, but usually for his opinions on where the Ryder Cup should be held or expounding his views about how the European Tour should be run. But since his victory at St Mellion last May, he has had four top-10 finishes in Europe, and he is now placed to win this title for the third time.

He one-putted nine greens yesterday, six for birdies and three for pars. 'Why are you putting better now?' he was asked. 'I don't know,' he replied with a shrug and a smile, indicating that if he had the answer he would have this infuriating game at his mercy. But he did recognise part of the reason. After missing a short putt on the last green at East Sussex last Sunday, he swapped one Tad Moore putter for an identical model. 'I decided to give the reserve a chance,' he explained.

But there is more to shooting a 65 than sinking a few putts. Ballesteros has so far hit 31 greens in regulation and not made a bogey. Even with a 7.55am tee-time yesterday, the fans were out in force to watch Europe's most charismatic golfer go about his work in emblematically flamboyant fashion. 'They give me motivation,' he said. Rather than have to play 36 holes today - a consequence of Thursday's wash- out - he admitted he would rather have had the opportunity to carry on yesterday. 'If they would let me, I'd go out again with a marker now and just play 18 tomorrow,' he said.

As things stand, Ballesteros will not have the chance to play 36 holes a day at the World Matchplay Championship next month, but Friday's news that John Daly might not play competitive golf again this year after his latest altercation with officialdom may leave the door open for Ballesteros to be invited belatedly to Wentworth.

Montgomerie thought Ballesteros's golf yesterday was pretty much out of this world. 'The way Seve played was wonderful,' he said after partnering him. 'I've always been a Seve fan. I was a boyhood fan. Now I'm a manhood fan.' Ballesteros called those remarks 'a great compliment coming from Colin'.

Monty himself had just compiled a 66, which should help consolidate his seemingly impregnable lead in the Order of Merit. Seven birdies were only blemished by a six at the long 13th, and as he said: 'I am only four behind. Seve is not in an unassailable position.' Did he think Seve would make a good replacement for Daly in the Matchplay if the situation arose? 'He would be a wonderful replacement - as long as I am in the other half of the draw]'

Murray handles a few business deals for David Gilford, winner of last week's European Open. Murray has been doing the business on the course this week, following the 67 that gave him a share of the first-round lead with a 69. Aged 38, Murray is a year older than Ballesteros but has had only one tour victory. 'I will give it my best shot,' he said of the task confronting him. 'I've not been a pro for 22 years to give up.' This is probably his last full season as a player, partly because he suffers from spondylitis. Murray, too, was gracious about Ballesteros. 'I don't think there is anyone in the game who is not happy to see Seve playing like this,' he said.

Peter Corrigan, back page