Doubts grow over playing future of Ballesteros

The despair felt by those watching Seve Ballesteros in the first round of the Murphy's Irish Open on Thursday, when the Spaniard clocked up an 89 but was disqualified for signing for a 10 rather than a 12 at the 18th hole, clearly was matched by the man himself. Yesterday Ballesteros first withdrew from his next engagement, the European Open at the K Club next week, and then quit the Open Championship at Muirfield on 18-21 July.

It will be the first time Ballesteros has missed the Open since his debut in 1975. On only his second appearance he thrillingly finished as runner-up to Johnny Miller and then in 1979, at Royal Lytham, he won the first of his three titles. It was a performance that inspired a generation of players across the many golfing hinterlands of Europe. In trademark fist-pumping style Ballesteros won the Open again at St Andrews in 1984 and four years later on the return to Lytham.

But the fact that he has not made the cut in the Open since 1995 accurately reflects his declining form of the last few years. This season, Ballesteros, whose last win on the tour was also in 1995, has only played all four rounds at the Madeira Island Open. After missing the cut at the Spanish Open at the end of April – following a remarkable performance in his own Seve Trophy where he won a fourball match and his singles against Colin Montgomerie – Ballesteros, 45, claimed he was tired and needed a rest.

His return at Fota Island this week was dismal. As bad as his long game has been, his brilliant recovery skills have usually saved him from the worst embarrassments. But at the 18th on Thursday, after his wildly hit second shot from the trees found the lake by the green, he proceeded to land in the water from three more consecutive chips.

It was no way for a great champion to leave the sport and the inevitable talk of retirement may be premature. However, quite when he will leave his home in Pedrena again to play in a tournament remains uncertain.

By not being here yesterday, Seve missed out on the free pint of Murphy's for everyone following Fredrik Jacobson's hole-in-one at the 11th, a treat the gallery will not be able to enjoy once the sponsors end their association with the event this weekend. "It is a great shame," Montgomerie said. "Every round Seve has played for the last four years dissolves the legend that we have. The way Muirfield will be set up, it is probably for the best. He was such a fantastic talent but hopefully he can take some time off and come back."

Despite further back problems of his own, necessitating painkillers at the turn, Montgomerie hit birdies at the last two holes for his second successive 67. The Scot, who hardly hit a fairway on the back nine, was one behind Australian Peter O'Malley at nine under. Lee Westwood, after a 68, was a further stroke back.

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