Olazabal regains touch of class

Seve Ballesteros Trophy: Spanish pair unleash barrage of birdies to swamp Montgomerie and Woosnam
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The Independent Online

Who needs sunshine and warmth to play superb golf? Not those competitors in the Seve Ballesteros Trophy who squelched their way around the Old Course at Sunningdale in spectacular fashion.

In particular Jose Maria Olazabal, so disappointed to lose twice on the opening day, returned to more inspired form with six birdies in 13 holes as he and Miguel Angel Jimenez defeated Colin Montgomerie and Ian Woosnam 6 and 5 in the second series of fourballs.

It was a rare old trouncing for the Scottish-Welsh combination, who did not drop a shot but had no answer to the Spaniards' seven-under 28 for the front nine. It helped Ballesteros' Continent of Europe team to halve the session and remain level with Great Britain and Ireland at 6-6.

Heavy rain during the night left the Sunningdale course flooded and the fourballs were delayed until 1pm. It is still hoped to play a series of greensomes, where both partners drive and then play alternate shots with a preferred ball, this morning before the scheduled 10 singles.

Though the rain kept off for a while, when it returned the mopper-uppers came out in force. There was also a wintry chill. Foul conditions, in other words. Yet the afternoon was brightened by Olazabal. A week ago, he missed the cut while defending his Masters title. Unusually, he has been spending more time on the practice putting green than the driving range, but a session with John Jacobs this week helped his putting. With his confidence back on the greens, the rest of his game quickly picked up.

Always a fabulous iron-player, his one-iron from 207 yards to three feet at the second ranks with his best. "I don't normally say this, but it was one of my greatest shots," he said. "It was into a right-to-left wind, wonderfully cut, really high, a lovely shot."

With Jimenez adding birdies at the third and fourth, the Spaniards were five under, and four up, after five holes. A seven-iron to five feet at the fifth and a nine-iron to four feet at the seventh were two more fine approach shots. Olazabal then holed from 20 feet at the short eighth and from 12 feet at the 11th. "We played extremely well," Olazabal said. "There was not much Monty and Woosie could do."

Montgomerie, who could not recall losing a match by such a margin, had long since accepted his spectator role. "It was fun to watch," said the Scot. "We didn't have a prayer. By the eighth, it was a case of 'I'm sorry, this is just too good'. You have to bow to play like that and enjoy it. I'm just glad Jose is on our side every two years at the Ryder Cup."

As well as commemorating the legend that is Seve, this match has an important part to play in blooding young players in a form of the game professionals never experience unless they reach the rarefied heights of the Ryder Cup. Ballesteros is determined the event will succeed. The logical place in the schedule is during September in non-Ryder Cup years, but Ballesteros does not yet know whether it will again be staged in Britain in 2002 or move to the Continent.

With the Americans getting to play in the President's Cup against an International side from outside the States and Europe in even-numbered years, they may eventually get enough practice at foursomes and fourballs to understand the concept of team golf.

Europe has always been strong in those departments - leading 10-6 after two days at Brookline last September - but usually have to rely on a few stalwarts who are then exhausted by the singles. Jean Van de Velde and Jarmo Sandelin have both shown enough here so that if they get to play at The Belfry next year, they won't have to sit out until Sunday again.

Similarly, having enjoyed a small taste of this style of competition, it must be hoped others aspire to the higher level. John Bickerton, for example, could not find a Ryder Cup more painful than his debut here. Preparing for a putt, from just off the green, to halve the second hole, he was struck on the calf by Lee Westwood's second shot.

Seeing the flag in the hole, Westwood fired away unaware that the group in front had not cleared the green. His ball, on line for the flag, was knocked 20 yards the wrong way. But while his partner Darren Clarke birdied the hole, Bickerton missed his putt before receiving profuse apologies from Westwood. When players are not even safe from their own team-mates, it must be serious.

Clarke and Westwood, who beat Tiger Woods and David Duval at the Ryder Cup, also went to the turn in 28. Westwood eagled the first and birdied the fourth and ninth, while Clarke birdied the second, third and sixth as they beat Van de Velde and Alex Cejka2 and 1.

Westwood maintained his 100 per cent record in three matches, as did Sergio Garcia, who with Thomas Bjorn defeated Bickerton and Phil Price. The match went to the 18th, where Bickerton missed a long chance for a half, while Paul Lawrie and Gary Orr also went the full distance against Sandelin and Karlsson.

"To get two wins out of the last three matches was good," Montgomerie, the GB and I captain, said. "We are poised for a very good Sunday. This match has become an intense battle very early in its young life. All credit to the professionalism of the players and to all those people who turned out today."

Yesterday's scores

FOURBALLS GB and Ireland players first

I Woosnam and C Montgomerie lost to M A Jimenez and J M Olazabal 6 and 5 P Lawrie and G Orr bt J Sandelin and R Karlsson 1 up J Bickerton and P Price lost to T Bjorn and S Garcia 1 up D Clarke and L Westwood bt A Cejka and J Van de Velde 3 and 1 Match score: Great Britain and Ireland 6 Europe 6


Morning: Four greensomes Afternoon: 10 singles