Rough ride lies ahead for Walton

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The Independent Online
One of the perks of sponsoring a tournament is that you get to play in the pro-am, usually with the professional of your choice. Thus, for the Alamo English Open which starts here at the Forest of Arden course today, one or two of the car-rental company's executives teed off yesterday with Philip Walton, the defending champion and Ryder Cup hero.

However, there were some red faces at the red-letter day as Walton, unimpressed with the condition of the course, declared: "The pro-am should have been called off." For the most part, the European Tour has been bedevilled with wretched weather this season, but yesterday, the Forest of Arden was bathed in sunshine.

Walton's argument was that the pro-am (a vital source of income to the tournament) should have been sacrificed to protect the vulnerable greens. Not only are they prone to spike marks, but, horror of horrors, the amateur players neglected to repair their pitch marks.

"None of them do," the Irishman said, incredulously. "Not the guys I played with anyway. I just went round on my hands and knees all day. I was like the pheasants out there, plucking away."

As pheasant pluckers go, there are few more pleasant than Walton, whose victory here 12 months ago, when he defeated Colin Montgomerie in a sudden- death play-off, helped to propel him into the Ryder Cup team. At Oak Hill, in Rochester, the Dubliner, of course, secured his place in history by defeating Jay Haas on the last hole to seal Europe's triumph.

The year so far has been an anticlimax for Walton, who has missed more cuts than he has made. "You shouldn't dwell on the past," he said. "The trouble is I'm not making any putts. I'll only change my putter when I break it." He might be testing its mettle this week, and if the Forest of Arden cuts up rough, Monty will be in the dock.

As part of his contract with Marriott, the owners of the course, Montgomerie has made a few changes. For one thing, the rough is much heavier than normally witnessed on the Tour, but it should help to acclimatise Monty, and others who are playing in the US Open next week, with the sort of conditions they can expect to encounter in Oakland Hills, Detroit.

"The course looks fabulous and plays like a tournament course," said Montgomerie, who finished runner-up in the Deutsche Bank Open in Hamburg last week. "It is as tough a layout as we will find in Europe. People are blaming me for it. You have to hit the fairways, that's paramount.

"It serves a good purpose for the US Open and that's the whole point. My amateur partners found it very difficult, but this course has not been set up for amateurs." Even some of the pros are about to discover that to win the Alamo will take a siege mentality.

Lancashire's Paul Eales will be joining Europe's challenge in the US Open after coming through the qualifying rounds in America at the third attempt. Eales, who missed out by a single shot last year, scored rounds of 69 and 72 at Tenafly, New Jersey, to qualify for Oakland Hills with one stroke to spare. However, the former Open and US Masters champion Sandy Lyle, taking part in a qualifying competition for the first time since his days as an amateur, failed to get through. His fellow Scot Andrew Coltart abandoned his attempt to qualify after going to the wrong course.