GOLF: Spence suffers car rage

JARMO SANDELIN, of Sweden, took a giant leap towards a Ryder Cup debut yesterday by winning an incident-packed Peugeot Spanish Open at the El Prat course here.

However, Kent's Jamie Spence was furious with a ruling that ended his hopes of becoming, like Seve Ballesteros in the 1979 Open at Royal Lytham, another "car park champion."

Sandelin followed three opening rounds of 66 with a score of 69 to complete an impressive 21-under-par total of 267 and a four-stroke victory margin over the Dubliner, Paul McGinley, and the Spaniards Ignacio Garrido and Miguel Angel Jimenez. He leaps from 13th in the Ryder Cup table to fifth at the half-way point in the race - 19 counting tournaments gone, 19 more to go before the side is known in August - and he said: "If I can keep playing at this level for sure I will be there."

However, Sandelin's joy, tinged as it was with some tears following the recent death of his mother, was in marked contrast to the anger of Spence. The Englishman was lying second with seven holes to go when he pulled his drive left of the fairway at the long 12th. He saw it disappear under some cars but, despite a frantic search, the ball could not be found.

"It's a bloody farce," the 35-year-old told a tournament official, Paul Carrigill, who had informed Spence that he would have to return to the tee. "We saw it go under a car and now it's not here."

Spence was convinced that a spectator had picked it up. If he could have proved that, he would have been entitled to a free drop but, after going back and playing another ball, the hole cost him a double-bogey seven and he eventually finished joint fifth on 16 under par, five behind Sandelin.

"Without question the ball was picked up," Spence added. "Nothing else could have happened to it. Rules can be very, very unfair. On the tee I was thinking about eagling the hole. I came off it with a seven."

John Paramor, the chief referee of the European tour, commented: "If somebody had seen the ball at rest, Jamie would have been laughing. But it went under the car at speed and there was just not enough evidence that it had been moved by an outside agency, so it had to be declared a lost ball."

What made it worse for Spence was that the cars should not have been there. Paramor added: "We had tried to block them off from parking there, but a few made it through."

In North Carolina, Jesper Parnevik made four bogeys but still shot a five-under-par 67 for a three-shot lead in the Greater Greensboro Classic. The Swede's third-round score moved him to 21 under par, breaking the 54-hole tournament record set by Sandy Lyle in 1988 by four shots. His three-round score of 195 is also the best on tour this year, beating David Duval's 198 at the season-opening Mercedes Championship and Tiger Woods at the Buick Invitational.

Scores, Digest, page 11