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, US Open champion Ernie Els defending the World Cup title for South Africa with Wayne Westner, and Justin Leonard, the Open champion, 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. More than one team from each country will be allowed to include more of the top players.

But the move could also benefit European players. Ken Schofield, the 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 took a first- round lead at 14 under par thanks to Per-Ulrik Johansson's 64 and Joakim Haeggman's 66. You would not have known this was the site of a Ryder Cup defeat for Europe in 1991. Germany, even without Bernhard Langer, followed three behind, chased by Scotland, Spain and England.

Johansson, who won the event with Anders Forsbrand in 1991, went to the turn in 31, five under par, and never dropped a shot. Haeggman made only one bogey. "We both played well and we get along well. We have known each other for a long time,"Johansson said.

The pair were part of the Swedish team which lost to South Africa in the final of the Dunhill Cup at St Andrews last month. But with Els off form to the tune of a 73, only Westner's four birdies in a row from the 11th brought them to within 11 shots of the Swedes.

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 layout 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 little breeze the conditions could not have been better for scoring. Germany's Alex Cejka took full advantage with a new course-record 63, which consisted of nine birdies, no dropped shots, no missed fairways and no missed greens.

"This was nothing like six years ago," Montgomerie said. "The course is less severe, a lot fairer." The last time he was here, Montgomerie pushed a two-iron into the water at the 195-yard 17th and was about to shake the hand of his singles opponent, Mark Calcavecchia, until the American did the same. This time, Monty hit a five-iron to eight feet and holed for a birdie.

His 68 was in a supporting role to Raymond Russell's 66, which was all the more creditable for including a double-bogey seven at the second where he had to take an unplayable. A three-iron to two and a half feet at the fourth sparked Russell into a run of five birdies in a row.