Nicklaus returns to the Open

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The Independent Online


reports from Lytham St Annes

Arnold Palmer may have wandered off down Sunset Boulevard but the Royal and Ancient remain optimistic that Jack Nicklaus will grace the 125th Open championship at Royal Lytham in July.

It was feared that the Golden Bear was going into hibernation but Michael Bonallack, secretary of the R & A, said yesterday: "Jack has said for the last six years that he wouldn't be coming but that hasn't stopped him competing. His office has applied for an entry form, not only for himself but also his two sons and they have also enquired about accommodation."

Seve Ballesteros, who won the Open the last time it was played at Royal Lytham in 1988, was the first entry received by the championship committee. "He's obviously got nothing else to think about," Bonallack said. Ballesteros, who last week was named as the captain of the European Ryder Cup team for the match against the United States in Valderrama, southern Spain next year, has been on a five-month sabbatical and returns to championship golf in the Moroccan Open next week.

The R & A's contract with BBC Television expires at the end of the year and several offers are being considered. B Sky B is understood to have bid pounds 25m to cover the Open for five years from 1997 and Bonallack confirmed that the BBC, who had covered the championship for less than pounds 1m, had made a fresh offer. "It would not be right for me to comment on the amount," Bonallack said. "We are talking to a lot of people and weighing up the balance of the offers made. We are in no hurry." Negotiations are being handled by Trans World International, the television arm of Mark McCormack's International Management Group, and it is possible that a deal will be done to show the Open on terrestrial television as well as satellite.

New pace of play guidelines, introduced by the R & A and the United States Association this year, will be enforced at the Open. Peter Greenhough, chairman of the championship committee, said: "We were very disappointed with the pace of play at St Andrews last year. Slow play is not acceptable and this year we are going to make a concerted effort that players are aware of their responsibilities. We will have officials out on the course ready to apply sanctions if necessary."

Players in the tortoise class will be penalised one stroke for a first offence, two for a second, followed by disqualification for persistent slow play.

Minor alterations have been made to the course since 1988, with new bunkers being created at the sixth, seventh and 17th holes, bringing the total number of sand traps at Royal Lytham to 190.

Four of last September's victorious Walker Cup side are named by the R & A in a list of 16 players to attend the first of this season's Great Britain and Ireland squad sessions with Bernard Gallacher at Woodhall Spa Club from 8-10 April. Jody Fanagan, Barclay Howard, Graham Rankin and Gary Wolstenholme provide the experienced backbone of a group that will have as a target places in the GB and Ireland sides for the St Andrews Trophy match against the continent of Europe, also at Woodhall Spa on 30 and 31 August, and the World Amateur team championship in Manila from 14-17 November.