Seve up to his old tricks

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Once, the Lancome Trophy was a highly exclusive event, in keeping with the chic surroundings near Versailles. The elite of the golfing world entertained the finest of Parisians, always excepting when they are detained by lunch. Times change.

The clubhouse restaurant is still of the highest quality, but the field, which numbered only eight for many years, has been expanded from 66 to 132 in the last three seasons. They have even let in someone ranked 173rd on the European money list and 293rd on the world rankings.

Seve Ballesteros is an exception, however, and the Ryder Cup captain's 65 in the first round here was better than anything the seven members of his team who are competing could manage. Two of them, his playing partners, Jesper Parnevik and Darren Clarke, both shot 73. Mark O'Meara, the visiting American player, only scored a 69, and Greg Norman, the world No 1, a 67. Ballesteros led on six under with the Australian Peter O'Malley.

Quelle surprise. In 35 previous rounds of golf this year, Ballesteros had bettered 70 only twice, with two 69s. He was 97 over par and has only made two cuts, his rotten form building a permanent black cloud that has threatened to engulf him, his captaincy and even Europe's chances at Valderrama.

But, the team finally settled, Ballesteros' mood has improved dramatically. "I said to my caddie before the start that I would have a good round," Seve said. "I felt happy, relaxed, comfortable."

Ballesteros was back to his old tricks. Four of his seven birdies came in his last four holes, the longest from 15 feet at the sixth. That hardly tells the story of his four at that par five. The Spaniard, as all too often recently, drove into the trees, but then, as of old, produced a miraculous recovery.

He had 185 yards to the green, but only the smallest window of opportunity. Unable to swing a club properly standing up, Seve sank to his knees and hit a four-wood through the tiny gap in the branches. The ball never rose more than 10 feet above the ground and finished just short of the green. "It felt like the old days," he said.

Only one three-putt, at the fifth, spoilt his card. On the whole his driving was much improved, his tempo particularly good. "That is my best golf for three or four years," said Ballesteros, who has not won for over two years. "I have been through a very tough time.

"Can I win? Why not? If I play three more rounds how I played today, I have a great chance." He laughed off suggestions of a last minute wild card for Valderrama, but the Spaniard in miracle-mode will be an asset, even off the course.