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Walton holds his breath on the trapdoor



reports from Stuttgart

This time Philip Walton fancies his chances. This time there is no Seve Ballesteros to put him under undue pressure and reduce him to a nervous wreck. "The hurt comes back every two years," Walton said.

In 1989 the Irishman was on the threshold of qualifying for the Ryder Cup. All he needed was a decent finish in the German Open in Frankfurt, and what happened? They put him in with Ballesteros in the first two rounds. The result, of course, is that half the Frankfurters followed the Spaniard and Walton, who had a proven record in the Walker Cup, found the excessive attention disturbing.

He missed the half-way cut, dropped to 11th in the pecking order and Tony Jacklin, then Europe's captain, chose not to select him. Walton suspected he stood no chance when Ballesteros patted him on the back and said something like better luck next time. Walton believes he was being unfairly tested and the experience still rankles.

Now here he is again: Stuttgart instead of Frankfurt, but in 10th place in the Ryder Cup table. This is the trapdoor position. If he is still in 10th place or better come Sunday evening he will play against the United States in Rochester, New York, in a month's time. If Walton slips outside the top 10 he will have to rely on the mercy of the captain, Bernard Gallacher. Walton should not hold his breath.

The quantity of Gallacher's mercy is strained. Europe used to have four wild cards, now it has two and Gallacher will have to get on the phone to Houdini to get himself out of the knot he finds himself in. It is mathematically possible for any player down to Peter Baker in 27th place to gain automatic entry, but Gallacher's problems will begin on Sunday evening.

It is assumed, on the basis that he has won five major championships, that Nick Faldo, in exile in the United States, will receive the nod from Gallacher. The trouble is that Jose-Maria Olazabal, who is also in America, and Ian Woosnam have not made the team on merit. Gallacher wanted all three to play here but only Woosnam has made the trip.

"It seems to me that Olazabal either doesn't want to play on the team or he is just relying on a pick," Woosnam said. "If he doesn't want to play his way, drop him and get someone else. That's fair enough, isn't it?"

On the surface it seems fair but Gallacher is finding it increasingly difficult to find 12 good men and true who have the Ryder Cup at heart. Gallacher, with justification, could leave out Faldo, Olazabal and Woosnam. "I'll be glad when this week is over," Woosnam said. "I'm just about sick of the Ryder Cup. You wonder if it is worth the effort to bloody well get in it."

What effort? Woosnam has missed 18 tournaments in Europe this season and has done little in the ones he has played in. As for Faldo, he has played just three times in Europe and he could have qualified but for being anonymous in the majors. It is possible, of course, that at the age of 38 Faldo's best days are behind him. If Gallacher wanted him here this week why on earth could not he have made the effort? You might have thought that being a professional golfer occasionally involved playing professional golf.

Faldo and Woosnam have both criticised the reduction of Europe's wild cards to two but neither has lifted a finger to make Gallacher's job any easier. "I don't sympathise with him," Woosnam said. "He has put himself in that situation. He sits on the committee and he's agreed to it. He thought it would have been easier for him most probably but as it turns out it isn't going to be, is it?"

Woosnam's putting has been so abysmal he is thinking of experimenting this week with the long putter. In the first two rounds he will partner Sam Torrance, a man who could show him all he needs to know about how to putt with what looks like a broom handle.

The unconventional putter appears to have turned Torrance's career around. He gave one to Walton and the Dubliner has also prospered. Today Walton does not have to worry about Ballesteros. The Spaniard is not here. Instead he will partner David Gilford and the whispering Englishman would not attract a crowd in his home town of Crewe, let alone Stuttgart.

Europe's Ryder Cup hopefuls

Standings RC App Debut P W L H Pts

1 C Montgomerie (pounds 646,991) 2 1991 8 4 2 2 5

2 B Langer (Ger, pounds 566,481) 7 1981 29 13 11 5 15.5

3 S Torrance (pounds 475,632) 7 1981 23 4 13 6 7

4 C Rocca (It, pounds 469,815) 1 1993 2 0 2 0 0

5 S Ballesteros (Sp, pounds 450,022) 7 1979 34 19 10 5 21.5

6 D Gilford (pounds 266,884) 1 1991 3 0 2 1 0.5

7 H Clark (pounds 264,508) 5 1977 13 6 6 1 6.5

8 M James (pounds 253,815) 6 1977 22 7 14 1 7.5

9 P Johansson (Swe, pounds 252,771) 0

10 P Walton (pounds 251,442) 0

11 M A Jimenez (Sp, pounds 248,846) 0

12 J M Olazabal (Sp, pounds 244,330) 4 1987 20 12 6 2 13

13 I Woosnam (pounds 228,295) 6 1983 26 12 10 4 14

14 D Clarke (pounds 217,967) 0

15 B Lane (pounds 214,743) 1 1993 3 0 3 0 0

16 J Rivero (Sp, pounds 213,990) 2 1985 5 2 3 0 2

17 N Faldo (pounds 197,686) 9 1977 36 19 13 4 21

18 J Parnevik (Swe, pounds 182,043) 0

19 P Broadhurst (pounds 167,126) 1 1991 2 2 0 0 2

20 P Fulke (Swe, pounds 166,666) 0

Top 10 qualify automatically. Captain (Bernard Gallacher) to select two wild cards.