'Unhappy' Ballesteros walks out of Wentworth

Spaniard at odds with European Tour blames flu for his withdrawal from PGA Championship as Clarke sets pace
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Anyone suffering from cold and flu symptoms these days immediately comes under suspicion. Seve Ballesteros withdrew from the Volvo PGA Championship less than two hours before his tee-time after telling the European Tour he was suffering in just such a manner. This may have been the great Spaniard's own version of SARS - Seve's acute rejection syndrome.

On Wednesday evening Ballesteros was fined and reprimanded by the Tournament Committee of the European Tour. This followed his refusal to accept a penalty stroke for slow play at the Italian Open and his subsequent emotional outburst against the Tour. "I felt very unwell during the night and did not sleep," he said in a statement.

Another fine Spanish champion, Jose Maria Olazabal, had breakfast alongside Ballesteros but his fortunes improved with a round of 68, concluded by sinking a pitch from 80 yards at the last. Olazabal, who has misgivings of his own about the European Tour, chose his words carefully but clearly felt sympathy for his compatriot.

"I know he didn't sleep at all," Ollie confirmed. "Obviously, he is not feeling very happy with the whole situation and I don't blame him for that. I don't want to say anything more right now. But I will be speaking to people in private. That is how things should be done on this tour."

It was none too easy a day at Wentworth with the winds swirling through the pines. All but two players dropped shots to par and the bogey-free rounds of Darren Clarke and Justin Rose represented some very fine golf indeed.

Clarke, with four birdies and an eagle in his six-under 66, led by one from a group that included Scotland's Alastair Forsyth. Rose, after four birdies, was in the larger group alongside Olazabal on 68.

Both Clarke and Rose were proud of their blemish-free days. "It always excites me," said Rose, who has managed the feat in three of his last four rounds. "It means I am thinking well and being patient."

"It is as rare for me to have a round without a bogey, as you might assume," Clarke said with a smile, which is increasingly how he deports himself these days. Accentuating the positives and keeping calm are two of the things he has been working on with his sports psychologist.

His first birdie yesterday did not come until the eighth but he managed to stay in the right frame of mind to take advantage of Wentworth's double par-five finish, eagling the 17th from 18 feet and then claiming a four at the last. It also helped that Clarke has committed to eat the right things before, during and after a round to keep his energy levels up, while next week he will let a personal fitness trainer loose on him. "He is looking at it as a bit of a challenge," Clarke joked.

He finally realised the need to get fitter after leading the Masters by three strokes after the first round but losing steam as he played 54 holes in two days and tumbling down the leaderboard. "I was not fit enough to cope with the challenge that was presented," he said.

Colin Montgomerie, who birdied the last three holes for a 69, sacked his caddie, Andy Prodger, after a year together and will use Stevie Rawlinson instead. Monty is apparently looking for a bit more of a laugh from his bagman. "It wasn't gelling with Andy," he said. "Nothing personal, he is a great caddie. It was big of him to work for me for one last week and I hope we can go out with a win."

VOLVO PGA (Wentworth) Leading early first-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 66 D Clarke. 67 T Jaidee (Thai), J Kingston (SA). 68 G McDowell, J Rose, A Coltart, A Atwal (Ind), G Owen, S Kjeldsen (Den), P Baker, I Woosnam, A Scott (Aus), J Olazabal (Sp), P Senior (Aus), G Brand Jnr. 69 R Bland, J Donaldson, S Leaney (Aus), M Campbell (NZ), K Na (S Kor), M McNulty (Zim), R Gonzalez (Arg), R Rafferty, P Hedblom (Swe), G Orr, M Ilonen (Fin), N Fasth (Swe), C Montgomerie, E Els (SA), T Immelman (SA), S Hansen (Den), M Tunnicliff, D Fichardt (SA).