Lane rules the rich new world

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The Independent Online


reports from Thame

From the Old Course to the new, from AA signs pointing the way to the Open Championship at St Andrews to AA signs saying simply: "World Champ". The Andersen Consulting World Championship of reached the English countryside yesterday, although one look at the Oxfordshire club here and you could have imagined you were in the American Midwest.

Andersen consulted with the tours of the world and came up with a global matchplay contest which has bundles of money, new venues such as Kagoshima and Blackwolf Run, but not the right dates. The Oxfordshire, built two years ago by a Japanese company at a cost of pounds 30m, is designed by the American Rees Jones. The plan is to host a pro tournament, perhaps the Benson and Hedges next year, and the Ryder Cup is a long-term possibility.

Yesterday, the Oxfordshire staged the European semi-finals, in which Barry Lane defeated Bernhard Langer in the morning and Seve Ballesteros in the afternoon. The event, with 32 players from Europe, the United States, Japan and the Rest of the World has prize money of $3.65m (pounds 2.3m), the largest purse in the game. Thus far, it is fair to say it has not taken the sport by storm.

By his progress here, Lane won $200,000, which is more than John Daly won at St Andrews. He is guaranteed a minimum of another $100,000 for the world semi-finals in Scottsdale, Arizona, on New Year's Eve. Should he win the thing, Lane, who was attached to a public course in Berkshire not so long ago, will collect $1m. "You never think about the money," he said.

Ballesteros won $150,000, boarded a private jet from Luton to Spain and said: "That's the good thing about losing here. I don't have to spend the New Year in America."

Ballesteros had seven birdies in defeating Jesper Parnevik 3 and 1, but perhaps the old legs felt the strain against Lane in the afternoon. It was virtually over by the turn, at which point Lane was six up, and the Ryder Cup colleagues did not exchange a single word. "Seve was not in a talkative mood," Lane said. "You can beat anybody on the day."

While Ballesteros is not sure what his next tournament will be, Lane plays in the Scandinavian Masters next week at a place called Barseback, where he will partner Daly in a pre-tournament "shoot-out."

"Daly's so talented he could knock everybody else off the face of the earth," Lane said. "He's got more raw talent than anybody I've ever seen. He's a great ambassador for the game. I just wish he'd cut his hair a bit at the back."

ANDERSEN CONSULTING WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP (Oxfordshire Club): European semi-finals: B Lane (GB) bt B Langer (Ger) 3 and 1; S Ballesteros (Sp) bt J Parnevik (Swe) 3 and 1. Rest of the World semi-finals: D Frost (SA) bt S Elkington (Aus) 4 and 3; R Allenby (Aus) bt C Parry (Aus) 2 and 1. European final: Lane bt Ballesteros 4 and 3. Rest of the World final: Frost bt Allenby 3 and 2.