Golf: The Open - James defers decision to play

THE RYDER Cup captain, Mark James, reaffirmed yesterday that he will make a decision in two weeks about whether to play against the United States in September. He intends making an announcement at Dublin's K Club during the Smurfit European Open.

"At the moment it is pure supposition as I don't have enough points on the board," he said after finishing the Open at Carnoustie on 302, 18 over par. "I am not worried about making the decision."

James had a disappointing final round of 78 which left him well down the field and deeply frustrated with his performance.

"I am very disappointed with the way things went but the course didn't do me any favours," he said.

Nick Faldo's chances of making the Ryder Cup team must be nearly zero after he missed his first Open cut in 24 tries. Faldo, who turned 42 yesterday and has won more Ryder points than any player in history, is so low on the Ryder standings that he must rely on a wild-card pick from James. James seems much more likely to pick Jesper Parnevik and Bernhard Langer. Other possibilities are Thomas Bjorn, Patrick Sjoland and Per-Ulrik Johansson.

Open officials yesterday revealed the drop of fortune that helped Jean Van de Velde take a five-shot lead into the final round. It emerged that the Frenchman, through no fault of his own, had been given an illegal drop on the 11th hole on his way to his third-round 70. His tee shot on the 383-yard par four found the rough on the right of the fairway in a lie so bad that he decided to play out sideways onto the fairway.

A TV tower was on his intended line of play and he asked the match referee for relief without penalty under a local rule for temporary immovable obstruct- ions. This request should have been denied, however, as the tower did not lie directly between his ball and the hole and the ball was not within one club-length of a place where the tower would come into play.

However, in error, Van de Velde was allowed a free drop, played back on to the fairway and subsequently saved par with a 10-foot putt.

After talking to the match referee and reviewing television coverage of the incident David Rickman, the R&A rules secretary, said: "It is regrettable that the ruling on the 11th hole was incorrect. In the circumstances the player's request was both reasonable and understandable but, in accordance with the local rule, relief should not have been granted. That having been said, the referee's decision is final."

Phil Mickelson joined the chorus of disapproval for the course after missing the cut, throwing down the gauntlet to the R&A in the process.

"I wish I hadn't come here," he said. "I would rather be at home with my wife and baby. I don't think there is an individual in the R&A who would break 100 around here."