Golf: The heat is off

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The Independent Online
IAN BAKER-FINCH, no longer carrying the weighty responsibility of being the Open champion, becomes just another golfer again today when he tees off in the Dutch Open at Noordwijkse.

Although the Australian would like to have kept hold of the old claret jug - won by Nick Faldo at Muirfield - he admitted to a feeling of mental release after slipping out of contention.

'It was as if a big load had been lifted off my mind and that's how I feel about this week in Holland,' said Baker-Finch, who hit 68 in the final round at Muirfield to finish in joint 19th place. 'I feel a lot more relaxed and ready to go again.

'I haven't won since the Vines Classic in Perth in February. Another victory is long overdue.'

Greg Norman, another Australian former Open champion, who also hit 68 on Sunday, is also hungry for success. 'I feel good about my game and good about this week,' he said.

In a strong field, Payne Stewart, the former US Open champion, returns to defend the title he won last year, and only four players of the top 20 on the European Tour have not entered.

The missing four do, however, have impressive credentials - Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Peter Senior and Severiano Ballesteros - so the European challenge is likely to be headed by Jose-Maria Olazabal, whose final round of 68 lifted him to third place in the Open.

Sandy Lyle, Gordon Brand Jnr, joint fifth at Muirfield, and Colin Montgomerie lead the British challenge.

CARD OF THE COURSE Hole Yards Par Hole Yards Par 1st 388 4 10th 448 4 2nd 571 5 11th 498 5 3rd 166 3 12th 146 3 4th 463 4 13th 372 4 5th 387 4 14th 531 5 6th 189 3 15th 372 4 7th 371 4 16th 396 4 8th 404 4 17th 205 3 9th 558 5 18th 376 4 Out: 3,497 36 In: 3,344 36 Total: 6,841 72

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