Langer leading the Oak Hill gang

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The Independent Online
FOR years they have been saying bring the Ryder Cup to Ireland and yesterday they did. Not the match itself, of course, but the little gold cup that every two years overflows with champagne and tears. Ten of Europe's Oak Hill heroes were competing in the Smurfit European Open at the K Club and nine made the halfway cut.

The one who did not was the one everybody here wanted to see and that is precisely why Philip Walton had the weekend off. Walton, a Dubliner who lives in Malahide, gained the crucial point in the singles in Rochester last Sunday and that was quite enough pressure for one week if not a lifetime. When Concorde touched down in Dublin last Monday, Walton and Bernard Gallacher were first out of the door and they were roared at by 6,000 throats, a supersonic welcome. Walton was legless in America, in the sense that when he was playing Oak Hill a week ago he confessed he was no longer in possession of his knocking knees.

The lad has been legless ever since even if he has not been able to visit his local for a quiet pint on the grounds that his pub has been "cased" by reporters. The cut here was made at four over par and Walton missed it by the width of Dublin Bay.

Bernhard Langer, on the other hand, is still very much in the competition following a 68 in the third round yesterday. That put him at four under, an aggregate of 212. When Langer came into the press tent he found the Ryder Cup itself on the table.

The trophy had travelled from New York to London (through Nick Faldo's hands at a gala dinner) to the Belfry (which will again be bidding for it in 2001) to the K Club where today it will be on display by the 18th green. "I think I'll take it home with me," Langer said.

He has a more realistic chance of taking the European Open silverware back to Germany tonight after a round yesterday that was a microcosm of his career. The K Club is a lavish establishment about 25 miles outside Dublin. It is owned by the industrialist Michael Smurfit who makes his money out of packaging. This is nothing if not a well-packaged event.

He flew Arnold Palmer over to design the course and the only problem is that the greens are overseeded and the Guinness is fractionally too warm: nine degrees instead of seven. Whereas the stout can be drained, the greens are more difficult. This, and an abundance of water on the course (Arnie's lakes and the presence of the River Liffey which has nothing to do with either packaging or Palmer), has led to some horrendous scores at the K Club.

On the front nine holes of a wet and windy Saturday, Langer, the most outrageous victim of the slings and arrows of putting fortune, missed from five feet at the third, from three feet at the fifth and for ill measure three-putted the seventh. He went to the turn in 37 and was going nowhere.

Then he adjusted his stance, moved his back foot, fiddled with his shoulders and was on the leaderboard after coming home in 31 with five birdies. Nobody is entitled to five birdies on the back nine at the K Club. All of a sudden, of course, Langer was holing putts from all over the shop.

And this, despite two dreadful handicaps: the greens disfigured by heel prints and spike marks and the German, after playing five matches in the Ryder Cup, four of them against Corey Pavin, was almost sleepwalking.

Langer resumes today in pursuit of Barry Lane and a few others and should the German prevail he still has a chance of overtaking Sam Torrance and Colin Montgomerie in the Order of Merit. Langer is fourth in the money bags table and next week he will be the local hero in the German Masters in Berlin.