Ballesteros under fire from players

By Sunday evening the longest-running, continually sponsored tournament in Europe, the Benson and Hedges International, will finally have been stubbed out. It is doubtful whether the same can be said for controversies involving Seve Ballesteros. The great Spaniard reached the fag end of his career last weekend at the Italian Open when he refused to accept a penalty shot for slow play. He altered his scorecard not to include the penalty and was disqualified for signing for a wrong score.

Ballesteros has shown improvement in his form this year, but not in his relationship with authority. He had a blazing row with a tournament director in a car park in Madeira and in Italy launched a hysterical attack on the way the European Tour is run.

It was not the first time Ballesteros had let fly emotionally in such a manner, but not accepting a referee's decision sets an appalling example. Both aspects of the affair are sure to be discussed at a Tournament Committee meeting in Germany next week when there will probably be calls for the Spaniard to be fined.

"I don't know what action will be taken," said Bernhard Langer, who will be at the meeting. "The Tour can't be seen to have incidents like this every week. Seve has been and should continue to be an example for the young guys, who all look up to him."

Langer was involved with Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Jose Maria Olazabal in getting the European Tour's books scrutinised in 2000, but he told Ken Schofield, the executive director, that unlike Seve he did not feel victimised.

Sam Torrance, who is also a member of the Tournament Committee, said: "For Seve to think that the Tour is out to get him is beyond belief. No one is against him. He made the Tour. He was our Arnold Palmer."

Padraig Harrington stated: "All the players on the Tour think of Seve as a hero. He seems to be fighting a battle against himself. It's a pity. Any golfer would give his right arm for his career. He doesn't need to prove anything."

Paul McGinley added: "It is disappointing to see dirty laundry washed in public. He is entitled to his opinion, but there should be a meeting behind closed doors. Slow play is getting more and more tedious. It is very rare for someone to be penalised and it should happen more often."

Torrance, the captain, and 10 of last year's winning Ryder Cup team have returned to the scene of their triumph at The Belfry for the International, which starts today. "I've got goose bumps just being back here," said Torrance. McGinley has turned down several offers to repeat his 10-foot putt that sealed the victory. "Been there, done that," he said. "I know the line, I don't have to practise it any more."

Colin Montgomerie, who cut an unhappy figure missing cuts in the United States earlier in the season, is back in beaming mode, particularly as Torrance now refers to him as "my No 1". Montgomerie, who finished second in Italy, said: "My confidence is very much restored."

This is the first tournament for 10 months for Jean Van de Velde. The Frenchman, who became infamous for losing the Open on the last hole at Carnoustie in 1999, could barely walk during the European Open last July and had an operation on his cruciate ligament in September. An injury to his right knee while skiing in 1995 had never healed properly.

He has been in physiotherapy since the operation and got the go-ahead to start practising again in March. "It is a relief to be here," said Van de Velde. "I played shocking yesterday and pretty ugly today, so perhaps it's improving. There will still be pain for a while and I did wonder if I could do that, but I always had a vision in my head that I would walk again on the fairways."

The Government ban on tobacco sponsorship has meant the end of a popular event after 33 years. Jose Maria Olazabal, one of only three double winners of the event, said: "It will be hard to find another sponsor with the same commitment to golf and one that treats the players as well as they have."

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