Golf / Volvo Masters: Europe's elite are blown off course: Wild west wind does its worst for the players but Spence and Brand Jnr hold firm

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The Independent Online
NOBODY broke 70. Some struggled to break 90. Tony Jacklin was quite pleased with an 81. 'I've played a lot of courses all over the world,' Jacklin said, 'but this is the toughest I've ever seen by miles and miles.' The arch villain in the drama at Valderrama on the Costa del Sol was the poniente, a west wind which gusted up to 30mph and blew the cream of the European Tour off course.

As the casualties mounted during the first round of the Volvo Masters, Europe's showpiece finale, only two players, Jamie Spence of England and Gordon Brand Jnr of Scotland, scored below par, both emerging with 70. Even so Brand Jnr described Valderrama, designed by the veteran American Robert Trent Jones, as unfair.

'Tomorrow I could score 74 without playing differently at all,' Brand Jnr said. 'It is so unforgiving. It's like being on the edge of a cliff. I don't think you'll ever get on top of this course. I wouldn't like to die here.'

If this is the opinion of the joint leader, imagine what the others were thinking. Valderrama is the thoroughbred hobby-horse of Jaime Ortiz-Patino, who earlier this year entered his charge for the 1997 Ryder Cup. 'It would be the supreme test,' Jacklin, the former Ryder Cup captain, said.

So much for T J. What about D J and Vijay? D J Russell staggered round in 86, 15 over par, while Vijay Singh shot an 82 that included a quadruple bogey nine at the 17th. 'I've left a trail of blood,' D J said. 'I bled from the first hole to the last. I might play in a mask so nobody will recognise me. My putting was horrific but I've seen bigger greens on a pitch and putt. I could play on my knees tomorrow and score better.'

Singh's nine was remarkable in that he hit driver, driver, driver, driver. His drive from the tee at the 17th, a par five of 568 yards, landed safely on the fairway. He went for the big shot again with his second and smashed the ball out of bounds on the right. Playing a second ball, he again went for the driver and again blasted it out of bounds. From the same spot on the fairway, and with the same club, Singh finally got it on line but by that time he was playing his sixth stroke. Short of the green, he had a chip and two putts.

Sandy Lyle, who has a good track record here, was going great guns until he, too, was undone by the 17th. Hitting a three-wood for his second shot, on an uphill lie, the wind carried his ball out of bounds and it cost him a seven in a round of 72. At one over par he was on the leader board. If he is faced with a similar shot at the penultimate hole in the second round today, Lyle said that, to counteract the wind, he would consider using his putter. A putter for his second shot at a 568-yard par five? Lyle was serious. In practice he said he has hit a ball 200 yards with the gentlest club in the bag. Yesterday Lyle secured the only eagle when he hit a five-iron approach shot 230 yards at the 11th and rolled in a 30-footer. With his versatile putter.

Spence, along with Steven Richardson who is one stroke off the pace, appears to have the game for Valderrama in that he drives the ball extremely low. 'I've always been a good player in the wind,' he said. 'I also like these greens.' This year Spence's boat has come in. The 29-year-old from Kent is ninth in the Order of Merit with pounds 268,346 and that does not include the pounds 100,000 he won in the Alfred Dunhill Cup at St Andrews two weeks ago. Last Monday he paid off his pounds 85,000 mortgage.

A few years ago he was a regular at the Tour qualifying school, attending on five occasions to gain his card. 'I'd given myself five years to make it and my time was nearly up,' he said. 'I had a reprieve at the last minute.' That came in the form of the Open Championship at St Andrews in 1990 where he finished in the top 25.

His confidence restored, Spence set himself goals: to make the top 50 on Tour, then the top 30, the top five, to win a tournament, to represent England in the Dunhill Cup. He has achieved the lot. Next on the agenda is the Ryder Cup and he is currently third in the points table. 'I think I can win every week,' he said.

Nick Faldo is among a posse of players on 73, three strokes behind Spence and Brand Jnr. When Faldo, who did not play in the Dunhill Cup, bumped into Spence here he did not congratulate him on winning the trophy. He congratulated him on 'stuffing it up the Scots.' Yesterday Faldo had a solitary birdie, at the 11th, but played sufficiently well to have created half a dozen other chances. He retired to the practice putting ground.

'The scoring's very good,' Faldo said. 'Standards have improved. A few years ago, plus two would have been leading. It's tough out there. There are a lot of tough holes.' It's an ill poniente. . .

VOLVO MASTERS (Valderrama, Sp) First- round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 70 J Spence, G Brand Jnr. 71 S Richardson. 72 S Lyle, B Langer (Ger). 73 D Clarke, D Gilford, P Mitchell, N Faldo, M A Jimenez (Sp), M McLean, I Palmer (SA). 74 E Romero (Arg), R Davis (Aus), W Westner (SA), P Walton, C Rocca (It), F Nobilo (NZ), J M Canizares (Sp), D Feherty. 75 G Evans, J M Olazabal (Sp), A Sherborne. 76 M James, M McNulty (Zim), C O'Connor Jnr, C Montgomerie, I Woosnam. 77 H Clark, R Karlsson (Swe), M Mackenzie, J Payne, B Ogle (Aus), R Rafferty, P Broadhurst. 78 G Day (US), J Rivero (Sp), T Johnstone (Zim). 79 M A Martin (Sp), B Lane, P Baker, V Fernandez (Arg), P O'Malley (Aus), A Forsbrand (Swe), J Rystrom (Swe), S Luna (Sp), J Haeggman (Swe). 80 P-U Johansson (Swe), M Lanner (Swe), M Roe, P Way. 81 T Jacklin. 82 V Singh (Fiji). 86 D J Russell.

(Photograph omitted)