Seve Trophy brings pins and needle to North-east

A shame, really, as this matchplay tear-up between Colin Montgomerie's Great Britain and Ireland and Jose Maria Olazabal's Continental Europe is just what the fragile European Tour is screaming out for - something different. Alas, the absence of Luke Donald, Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Bernhard Langer has hurt this biennial fixture's credibility so much that it will never have its desired reputation as "the Ryder Cup warm-up ".

To be fair, even with the five refuseniks in attendance, this match would have struggled, in world terms, not to be overshadowed by events beginning in Virginia tomorrow where the best of the United States take on the best of the Rest of the World in that unashamed Ryder Cup clone, The Presidents Cup. After all, the prospect of the deciding singles being between Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh makes the blood pressure hurtle far quicker than the equivalent here - er, Padraig Harrington versus Thomas Bjorn.

Nevertheless, that is not to dismiss this showdown in Tony Blair's constituency as some meaningless "exhibition" match between 10 millionaires who will earn £90,000 a man when they win and another 10 who will be consoled by £50,000 each in defeat. It is anything but. Get through the interminable opening two days' play - which the organisers have inexplicably filled with 10 fourball matches, easily the most boring format in golf - and by Saturday's alternate-shots encounters and Sunday's quickfire singles, some real needle will doubtless emerge from this veritable haystack of euros.

There is history between the two teams and not merely the 2-1 advantage to Montgomerie's men since the Trophy's imaginative inception in 2000. The last match ended in the sort of controversy to make Justin Leonard blush when Olazabal and Harrington were involved in a verbal ding-dong after the Dubliner accused his opponent of repairing marks on the green before the referee had inspected them. The tension could have been cut with a two-iron and gave the proceedings a Brookline feel.

"We managed to clarify the situation a few weeks later," said Olazabal yesterday, not sounding altogether clarified. "I was not a happy camper and made it clear."

Probably not quite as clear as the man who handed him this year's captaincy. It wouldn't be the Seve Trophy without Mr Ballesteros and it was a delight to see the eponymous hero in yesterday's pro-am after a near two-year battle with back trouble and even more of a delight to hear him as he geared up for his competitive return in next month's Madrid Open. "I played some great shots out there," said the 48-year-old. "What result would please me in Madrid? Winning, of course. I think it very possible."

What Olly and Monty would give for their players to have such self-belief.

Draw and tee-off times for the opening fourballs in the Seve Trophy (The Wynyard) (GB and Ireland names first): 10.35 Ian Poulter and Nick Dougherty v Thomas Bjorn and Henrik Stenson. 10.50 Colin Montgomerie and Graeme McDowell v Maarten Lafeber and Emanuele Canonica. 11.05 Stephen Dodd and Bradley Dredge v Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jose Maria Olazabal. 11.20 David Howell and Paul Casey v Niclas Fasth and Peter Hanson. 11.35 Paul McGinley and Padraig Harrington v Jean-Francois Remesy and Thomas Levet

l Michelle Wie is expected to turn professional next week and will make her debut on her 16th birthday at the Samsung World Challenge in Palm Springs, California, next month.

Seve Trophy teams

GREAT BRITAIN & IRELAND

Colin Montgomerie (Scotland, capt)

Paul Casey (England)

Stephen Dodd (Wales)

Nick Dougherty (England)

Bradley Dredge (Wales)

David Howell (England)

Paul McGinley (Ireland)

Padraig Harrington (Ireland)

Graeme McDowell (N Ire)

Ian Poulter (England)

CONTINENTAL EUROPE

Jose Maria Olazabal (Spain, capt)

Thomas Bjorn (Denmark)

Emanuele Canonica (Italy)

Niclas Fasth (Sweden)

Peter Hanson (Sweden)

Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spain)

Maarten Lafeber (Neths)

Thomas Levet (France)

Henrik Stenson (Sweden)

Jean-François Remesy (Fr)

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