Golf: Swedish pair grab sizeable early lead

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The Independent Online
Plans to upgrade the World Cup of Golf to include more of the top players was overshadowed by the brilliant start by Sweden's Per-Ulrik Johansson and Joakim Haeggman on the Ocean Course. Andy Farrell reports from Kiawah Island, South Carolina.

The guiding philosophy of the World Cup, known as the Canada Cup when it was founded in 1953, has always been to "promote international goodwill through golf". As such it has been played everywhere from Caracas, Venezuela to Shenzhen, China, while the minnows of Puerto Rico and Namibia have always had a chance to tee up alongside the giants of the game.

This year's field is one of the better ones, with three of the season's major winners, the US Open champion, Ernie Els ,defending the World Cup title for South Africa with Wayne Westner, the Open champion Justin Leonard, and USPGA winner Davis Love, representing America.

But it is the nature of an event comprising 32 two-man teams that there are more unknowns than stars. That may change in 2000 when the tournament comes under the umbrella of the World Golf Championship series of events which are due to get underway in 1999.

An increase in the purse, which totals $1.5m (pounds 880,000), and in television will need an incentive, however. In order for more of the leading players to be included, countries may be represented by more than one team. "The details of the format has still to be decided," said Tim Finchem, the commissioner of the US tour. "We would like more of the top players to play, but must also make sure representation from around the globe is maintained."

This will clearly enable more American players, who fill 10 of the top 18 places in the world rankings, to participate, but could also benefit European players. Ken Schofield, executive director of the European tour, said: "The geography of Europe has meant we have always been fortunate in having many two-man teams, and I can see opportunities for many of our countries to field another team.

One of the countries Schofield mentioned was Sweden, who were sailing away with a commanding early lead on the Ocean Course. Per-Ulrik Johansson, who won the event with Anders Forsbrand in 1991, went to the turn in 31, five under par, and his partner Joakim Haeggman took only one more stroke. By the time the pair had both birdied the 12th hole, they were a combined 13 under par.

This was not the Ocean Course that terrorised the Ryder Cup teams in the 1991 match here. Over 400 yards has been knocked off a lay-out once described by an American magazine as the "toughest resort course in America" to make it a more manageable 6,833 yards. It has also softened as it has matured and, with bright sunshine and no breeze, the conditions could not have been better for scoring.

Those who were here six years ago may still be traumatised by the experience. Ian Woosnam played the front nine in two-over 37, while Colin Montgomerie bogeyed the first before picking up to birdies by the turn. This was nothing compared to his partner Raymond Russell, who made up for his double bogey seven at the second with five birdies in a row from the fourth.

Ireland's Paul McGinley also made a fine start by birdying five of the first six holes. He later added a run of eagle, birdie, birdie from the 11th in a 66 which dovetailed perfectly with the steadiness of his partner, Padraig Harrington, who was round in 71 with just one bogey. At eight under par, the Irish duo were Sweden's closest, if still somewhat distant, pursuers.

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