Rocca in sight of Ryder reward

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COSTANTINO ROCCA was one of those left behind in Europe last week while others endured at Shinnecock Hills. He missed qualifying for the US Open by 306, but the last three gale-blown days at the National club in Paris have provided a Gallic version.

Rocca, the French Open champion here two years ago, has avoided the disasters of others and yesterday returned a 66 to lead by three from Neal Briggs. Victory today, with its pounds 91,660 first prize, will ensure he will not miss selection for the Ryder Cup in America in September.

He had compiled eight birdies by the time he reached the 18th tee but, troubled by a sore shoulder, he sliced into the rough and had to chip back to the fairway. He was then required to hit a three-wood over the water from 230 yards into the wind and made it by two feet, whereupon he slumped to the ground with relief. Two putts saved his par.

"I wasn't going to lay up today at 18," he said, "and I put all my strength into it. This is a very tough course with the wind. You need to keep your patience and take your time."

Briggs, 30, from Cheshire, a Challenge tour qualifier, played US Open- style golf in his 68 and has had only one bogey here. Paul Broadhurst is a further shot behind and had the satisfaction of an eagle-three at the 18th, where a nine sent him crashing out of the lead on Friday.

New Zealander Greg Turner, the overnight leader, is on the same mark after a day when reports on the Rugby World Cup final were more to the liking of his South African caddie. Finding water at the last was the final indignity.

European Ryder Cup captain Bernard Gallacher made a flying visit to Paris for the day and is concerned at the fitness of Jose Maria Olazabal, who will have an operation to remove a tumour in his right foot in the close season.

"He is a big member of the team and I want him at Oak Hill and I would like him fit," Gallacher said. "I will be waiting to hear what his surgeon says this week."

The Spaniard's Cup partner, Seve Ballesteros, missed the tournament with a back injury, but is due to return in two weeks in Ireland. "If Seve has a serious problem, I am sure he would have phoned me," Gallacher said.

Sandy Lyle, who has not played in the Ryder Cup since 1987, scored a 70 to go seven behind Rocca. With Nick Faldo in America, Gallacher is limited in his two wild card picks and has made it clear that they are not meant for someone like Lyle, who has played in Europe and not earned the points.

"He would be an idiot to ignore me if I'm playing like the last four or five weeks," Lyle. "I will need to win to qualify, but I'm playing as well now as I ever have. Faldo shouldn't need an invitation - he should get in automatically from the US money list or the world rankings."