The Main Event: Ballesteros opts to prolong the suspense

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The Independent Online
Seve Ballesteros, who was expected to name his two wild cards for Europe's Ryder Cup team after the conclusion of the BMW International yesterday, carried out his threat to delay the decision. Ballesteros will not reveal his hand while he has had a medical report on the fitness of Miguel Angel Martin.

Martin, who remained in 10th place on the qualifying table despite not playing since the Open in July, will undergo a test in Madrid on Wednesday before Ballesteros announces his two captain's picks after the opening round of the European Masters in Switzerland on Thursday.

Should Martin be ruled out Jose Maria Olazabal, who finished 11th, would become an automatic selection rather than a likely wild card. But Nick Faldo, Jesper Parnevik and anyone else who thinks they might be in the running for an invitation from Ballesteros, are left hanging on.

The postponement only seems to delay the inevitable. But having qualified for the team as one of the 10 automatic selections from a points list that has run for a calendar year, Martin has declined to withdraw. "I have worked too hard and too long to be where I am," he said. "The Ryder Cup is a dream."

The 35-year-old Spaniard suffered a wrist injury at the World Invitational at Loch Lomond and aggravated it when he played, against the orders of the Open doctor, after a cortisone injection. Martin then required an operation which kept him in plaster for three weeks.

At the time of the penultimate qualifying event, the European Open in Ireland, Ballesteros was under the impression Martin would not be able to play at Valderrama even if he qualified automatically. But Martin did not take kindly to the reports that he was out of the match.

"I have been reading papers and everyone thinks that I'm dead and cannot play," Martin told the Spanish press last week. "My doctors say my recovery is much better and quicker than they first thought."

Martin told Ballesteros yesterday that he hoped to start putting by the middle of this week, but the captain said: "He has to demonstrate that he can swing the club, hit the ball properly and play a round of golf. He has to be 100 per cent fit, that's why we are delaying the announcement."

"From what I have heard, his chances of passing the test are not great," said Ken Schofield, the executive director of the PGA European Tour. Schofield expects the test to take place at a golf club in Madrid in the presence of the Spanish Golf Federation and representatives of the Ryder Cup committee. Martin has not entered any tournament prior to the Ryder Cup on 26-28 September, but the deadline for entries for the British Masters the week before is on Thursday.

While it would have been clearer had Martin immediately ruled himself out, so that Ballesteros could have named his team, the Cup committee have had to consider the legal implications. "We have taken legal advice throughout the week," said Sandy Jones, the chief executive of the PGA at The Belfry. "We certainly don't want to be going into a court room and letting a judge or sheriff decide the team."

"We are not going to put the captain in the position of having a player who is a candidate for the envelope before we even arrive," Schofield added. "It is the committee's obligation to put the captain in possession of 12 fit men."

Ironically, two years ago Olazabal was given extra time to prove his fitness but declined a wild card invitation two weeks before the match due to the foot injury that then kept him out of golf for 18 months. The Spaniard, who only returned to the tour in Dubai at the end of February, needed to finish 20th to move above Martin on the points list but despite a final round 67 in the BMW International, he missed his target by three strokes.

Padraig Harrington, on his 26th birthday, needed to be in the top five to assure himself of an automatic selection but in the end remained 12th on the points list, failing even to pass Olazabal. Asked his chances of being a wild card, the Irishman replied: "Seve has got three great, experienced players to choose from, so why would he choose me?"

Olazabal and Faldo, who was on his way to Switzerland last night for the European Masters, should be the picks if Martin is declared fit. But if Olazabal counts as an automatic selection, the net can widen to include Parnevik, who is 10th on the US money list with over $1m, or players with Ryder Cup experience like Mark James, Paul Broadhurst or Peter Baker.

Olazabal claimed that he did not know of Ballesteros's thinking before he left for the airport. But looking relaxed for a man who knew he had just missed out on qualifying automatically, he said: "For me to have a chance to be in the top 10 in the points list is some achievement this year. I never thought I had a chance of qualifying. When I came back in Dubai the situation was still delicate."

Faldo, playing a European tour event the week after he was unable to appear in the final two qualifying events, will have the opportunity to talk to Ballesteros in Switzerland today. But just as there is no European team at present, there may also be no tournament as the European Masters is in danger of being cancelled. Torrential rain has left the mountain- top Crans-sur-Sierre course underprepared, with four temporary greens on standby.

RYDER CUP Leading final positions in the European table (top 10 qualify automatically, captain Seve Ballesteros to choose two wild cards): 1 C Montgomerie (Sco) 920,565pts; 2 D Clarke (N Irl) 594,813; 3 B Langer (Ger) 529,638; 4 I Woosnam (Wal) 514,059; 5 P-U Johannson (Swe) 481,040; 6 L Westwood (Eng) 468,153; 7 I Garrido (Sp) 371,696; 8 T Bjorn (Den) 363,449; 9 C Rocca (It) 352,332; 10 *M A Martin (Sp) 324,400. Leading non-qualifiers: 11 J M Olazabal (Sp) 321,396; 12 P Harrington (Irl) 308,697; 13 P Broadhurst 294,202; 14 J Haeggman (Swe) 248,640; 15 R Chapman (Eng) 247,247; 16 M James (Eng) 245,119; 17 S Torrance (Sco) 240,797; 18 P Mitchell 224,390; 19 M A Jimenez (Sp) 221,222; 20 D Gilford (Eng) 218,417; 21 R Karlsson (Swe) 217,679; 22 P Baker 213,405; 23 R Claydon (Eng) 211,570; 24 R Russell (Sco) 209,476; 25 D Carter (Eng) 199,209; 26 R McFarlane (Eng) 195,170; 27 N Faldo (Eng) 191,120.

* Martin to undergo fitness test on Wednesday. If unfit, Olazabal becomes automatic qualifier and Ballesteros names two wild cards on Thursday.

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