The 40-yard drive that could win pounds 73,000

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The Independent Online
Dawn had only just broken, but there was quite a crowd on Valderrama's first tee. Players, caddies, marshals, reporters, photographers, TV crews - one came especially from Australia - were all there. Robert Allenby selected a putter, then an iron, a driver and finally a three-wood. "Play well," said David Howell, his playing partner, observing the usual courtesies.

Barely able to place his tee in the ground, Allenby did not bother with a practice swing. "Go, Rob," shouted his fellow Australian, Wayne Riley. With a backswing of no more a couple of feet, Allenby propelled his ball 40 yards, not even clearing the end of the substantial teeing ground. He clutched his chest and could not bend down to pick up his tee. Once Howell had outdriven him by more than 200 yards, Allenby announced he was withdrawing from the Volvo Masters.

It was a ridiculous spectacle which should never have taken place. The greatest authority of all showed his feelings by sending down a mist, delaying the start for 45 minutes and turning farce into fiasco. Also present were some of the highest representatives of the PGA European Tour and the sponsors, Volvo, whose combined foggy thinking failed to take into account the fact that Allenby fractured his sternum in a car crash four weeks ago.

The regulations state that in order to receive his end-of-season bonus, Allenby, who has won three times in 1996, had to tee up here in Spain for the final tournament of the year. Should he maintain his current position on the money list of third, he will receive a bonus of pounds 73,000, which counts towards the rankings list. Whatever happens here, he cannot finish lower than fifth.

"The decision to come and play one shot was very difficult," the 25-year- old Australian said. "The reason is not for the money. I am donating all the bonus money to the Challenge Cancer Support Network in Australia and the Teenage Cancer Trust in the UK. I think they are two wonderful charities. Kids are very important.''

Allenby's ball was retrieved by his manager, Andrew Ramsey, and will be auctioned for charity. Allenby added: "The way I have played this year, I think I deserve the bonus money to count. I came over to try and maintain my position on the ranking and finish as high as possible."

With that he left for the airport, whence he had come less than 24 hours previously.

First-round report, scores, page 29

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