Golf: Woosnam digs in and rides out the storm: Rain in Spain a cause for pain on the course as Olazabal thunders out of control

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THE principal reason why the European Tour is able to start so early in the season is the balmy weather in Spain. Yesterday it was barmy. There was a postponement in the first round of the Peugeot Spanish Open at breakfast because of rain, another at lunch when a thunderstorm arrived with terrifying ferocity and again at tea. The Lion goes from strength to strewth.

Lightning struck the area of the first tee and fortunately the only casualty was a large clock. Over on the ninth green Ian Woosnam, who was determined not to let anything steal his thunder, was faced with a three- foot putt. At that point, as all hell seemed to be breaking loose, Seve Ballesteros, one of Woosnam's playing partners, suggested that they should mark their balls on the green and beat a hasty retreat to the clubhouse.

Woosnam decided to finish. 'I'm going to putt out,' he said to Ballesteros. 'You can do what you like.' Woosnam, who started at the 10th hole, sank the putt to complete a round of 67, five under par. Ballesteros also holed out, for a 69.

'The loudness of the bang was incredible,' Woosnam said. 'I was scared. You could see the storm coming. Somebody could have got seriously hurt.' His point was that the players, some of whom recoiled from the shock waves of the bolt of lightning, should have been told to leave the course before the storm broke. In America they almost certainly would have been.

Play resumed after a delay of three and a half hours, was suspended again, and at the end of what seemed to be a timeless test Woosnam was still up there along with Nick Faldo, Ronan Rafferty and Ballesteros.

This is the 16th event in Europe, only Woosnam's third and the biggest impression he has made to date is that he, his family and his private jet are moving from Oswestry to Jersey. 'Everybody thinks it's for tax reasons,' Woosnam said, to a sea of nodding heads, 'but it isn't. We like Jersey and we wanted a bit more sun. Spain was too far away.'

And too wet. The RAC course, a mountainous rally in any case at 7,112 yards, was playing exceptionally long. Woosnam described it as intimidating but his putting was good enough to give him six birdies. 'There's nothing wrong with my swing,' Woosnam said. 'It's my mind. I've just got to get up there and hit the damn thing.'

Woosnam, whose last victory was in Monte Carlo last July, knows what it is like to play with little or no confidence and he recognised the symptoms in Ballesteros. 'If I'd hit it like that I'd be terrified,' Woosnam said. However, he called Ballesteros's short game unbelievable.

Faldo, second in this championship last year, used the same adjective to describe his own bunker play. Four times he landed in wet sand and on three occasions he managed to get up and down. His play all round was pretty impressive which is more than can be said for Jose- Maria Olazabal, one of his partners. Having got to two under par, Olazabal's temperament went haywire from the fifth.

Olazabal took six at the fifth, a hole on which he was looking for a birdie four. As it happened he never hit the fairway and when his third shot flew behind a cork tree he buried his club, tomahawk style, in the ground.

The RAC is being looked at as a contender for the Ryder Cup in 1997 and Ken Schofield, executive director of the European Tour, and Sandy Jones, his counterpart on the PGA, yesterday ventured on to the course. It was not a good day to go walkabout. Nor, indeed, a good day to go shopping. The peseta was devalued by 8 per cent.

Scores, Sporting Digest, page 33

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