Phlegmatic Sandelin stays in the hunt despite late slip-ups

For Jarmo Sandelin, a 70 in the third round of the Quinn British Masters was a wasted opportunity. It could have been so much better, but his reaction to a little local difficulty at the last, a double-bogey, suggested the disappointment will not linger for the final round. "I couldn't win it today, could I?" asked the Swede. Assured this was the case, he said, "That's OK, then."

A phlegmatic response would not have always ensued, but Sandelin knows of worse things in life, and golf. On the golfing side he lost his card last year, making only nine cuts out of 30 on the European Tour, and had to regain his playing privileges at the Qualifying School.

"It was an important wake-up call," said the former Ryder Cup player. "I had put my head in the sand and thought everything would work out as before but it didn't. We should be very grateful because it's a fantastic living if you are on tour. I was comfortable, I was married, had children. Now I have to put golf in the first room again. I eat golf, I sleep golf, I think golf." Not that his family have become number two. "Never. They are above number one."

Sandelin won five times between 1995 and 2002 but had his best result since with a second place in the Italian Open last week. It was his 39th birthday on Wednesday and on Thursday he celebrated with a 67 on the Brabazon course.

Finnish-born, a naturalised Swede and a Monaco resident, he was a player a decade ahead of the crowd. He was into colourful shirts, fancy belts and leopard-skin shoes long before today's young peacocks began preening themselves, and he once used a 53-inch driver.

Yesterday he was soberly dressed in black as befitting a damp and misty morning. Dubai might have been a better time zone to fit in with the BBC's schedule of a pre-Cup final finish (the Irish PGA was, after all, once played in Spain) but the weather suited more the British Masters. Sandelin's golf bag was a rusty orange but for vividness could not match the yellow fields of rape surrounding the course.

In the difficult conditions Sandelin birdied three of the first seven holes. His home-made swing has been refined of late with his first serious course of coaching but he remains essentially a "feel" player. It suits his personality. His ball-striking can be a bit clunky but he is audibly distinctive in other ways, too: his voice is deeper than a fjord.

There were birdies at the 10th, with a pitch and a putt, and at the 17th, but Sandelin's troubles all came within sight of the clubhouse. He bogeyed at the ninth and later came to the last as Paul Casey's nearest challenger. But he put his approach in a bunker and left his recovery on the wrong tier of the green. Three putts followed for a six.

Now five off the lead, Sandelin remained happy with his position and the way he was playing. In 1999 at Brookline he almost did not play in the Ryder Cup, Mark James only requiring him for the Sunday singles. He was happy to do whatever was best for the team but now says: "It was a fantastic experience but I really hope some day I'll be there again and whoever is captain has more confidence in my game." If today is anything like his last seven rounds, it will be justified.

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