Seve's long, hard road

Irish Open: Ballesteros bemoans the loss of driving force and disappears from view as Cooper looms to threaten leaders
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The Independent Online
SEVE BALLESTEROS has not been involved in the big controversy over appearance money that has dominated the Murphy's Irish Open at the Mount Juliet course, in Co Kilkenny - disappearance money would be more in his line after he missed the cut for the third successive tournament.

His previous two tournaments were in America - the Kemper Open and the US Open - and his fate in each was an early exit just as it was here. Indeed, he hasn't won a penny since the Volvo PGA at Wentworth six weeks ago. The affect on his bank balance, however, is nothing compared with the blow it delivered to his morale and to that of anyone who cares about Europe's chances in the Ryder Cup in just over two months' time.

Not that the form which led to Ballesteros returning a 74 on Friday had a thinning effect on the gallery of Irish admirers who followed him faithfully around Mount Juliet. Many would prefer to see Seve playing badly than others playing well.

"I wish to apologise to the fans because I played so badly," he said. "Everyone was fantastic out there but my confidence was low. On a scale of one to 10, I would say one. The lowest ever."

Ballesteros traces his main problem to his long game. "I putted OK but you cannot keep a score going if your long game is letting you down. It is disappointing to go home early from the tournament like this." The tournament would have been equally sorry to see him go. The irony is that no player should attract more appearance money than the popular Spaniard. He probably did receive a small consideration for his presence but nothing compared with Greg Norman's fee which was at the heart of the row

In fairness to Norman, the sum of pounds 225,000 he is reputed to have received has more to do with a commercial deal than a mere golf tournament. The Australian's appeal to the sponsors Murphy's is part of a clever advertising campaign. Posters are plastered all over Ireland showing a glass of the sponsor's product alongside Norman's trademark black fedora with shark's teeth tucked into the ribbon. The legend compares the great white shark with a great black pint.

Had Norman been a film star, his involvement would not have been questioned and his fee would not have been in the public domain. As it is, we've had an outburst from Colin Montgomerie that the fee is "outrageous" and a condemnation from Sam Torrance, aimed at the greedy managers and agents who negotiate these fees.

Torrance made the very good point that it would be to everyone's benefit if there was no appearance money. Meanwhile, it continues to be one of the game's sore points and tends to obscure the efforts of those who earn their money by scrambling to win prize money. Into that category falls Ireland's David Feherty, one of the more appealing of the game's free spirits.

Feherty moved to Dallas last year to find his fortune on the American Tour but the impact he has made there is in sharp contrast to that of Nick Faldo. The Irishman has had matrimonial problems and his form has produced little in the way of revenue. The fact that he has lost three stone in weight and has to take frequent pain-killers completed an unhappy picture as he partnered Ballesteros out of the tournament.

The other hopes of a rare home win - the last Irishman to win this event was John O'Leary in 1982 - were looking a little healthier yesterday. Ronan Rafferty edged his way to the periphery of today's final charge with a round of 70 which places him at four under. Darren Clarke, however, moved in the other direction as two double- bogeys on the back nine pushed him to a 76.

Early trouble for Eamonn Darcy and Paul McGinley hampered their hopes of taking closer order so the main Irish interest as the leaders set off was in Philip Walton who birdied the first hole to go seven under.

But the man who set the early pace yesterday was Warrington's Derrick Cooper, who began his round at one under par and immediately set about improving his position with five birdies in the first six holes. He added another at the eighth and felt he was staring a course record in the face.

"I had the ball on a string on the outward nine," he said. "I was so relaxed and the greens are magnificent. When I birdied 10, I thought I could beat the record. I thought that if I couldn't get it going here, I wouldn't do it anywhere. But the back proved to be tougher. The pins are placed in more difficult positions and the wind comes into play."

Cooper dropped shots on the 14th and 15th and had to be content with a 66 that nevertheless gives him a chance if he can repeat that form today.