Walton plays through illness

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Philip Walton says he wants to be in the European Ryder Cup team, but makes it hard to believe him. If ever a player talked himself in and out of a place against the United States at Oak Hill in September, it was the Irishman yesterday.

Having shot a seven-under-par 65 to share the first-round lead of the Murphy's English Open, Walton sent a message cloaked in ambiguity. "It's everyone's dream to play in the Ryder Cup," he said, then implied "nightmare" might have been a more appropriate word.

The stress, it seemed, was about as welcome as Cedric Brown at a British Gas shareholders' party. "The Ryder Cup is destroying some players," he said. "I think it's unfair when it comes down to one putt on the final green. You see players coming off the 18th with their eyes in the back of their heads. There's too much pressure."

What Bernard Gallacher, the European team captain who has two selections to make up his 12, made of it is anyone's guess, but people who know Walton will read the message as: Philip would like to make the team, but he would prefer to arrive there quietly.

Yesterday Walton, 18th in the Ryder Cup standings and winner of the Catalan Open in April, suggested he has hit a seam of form that might play him into automatic selection.

Starting early, he attacked the course with the zest of a man newly restored to health after a serious illness - which was a fairly accurate description as he was diagnosed as having a fever one step away from pneumonia on Monday, and played only thanks to antibiotics.

A bloodshot left eye betrayed his illness, but using a broom-handled putter, he swept up six birdies before chipping in out of the rough from 30 feet on the last. That pushed him alongside Germany's Alexander Cejka, with a one-stroke lead over Australia's Peter Senior and two shots ahead of a clutch of players on five under.

Among them is Michael Campbell, a New Zealander who is promising to be the discovery of the 1995 season. He had three top-10 finishes to his credit before his second place in the PGA Championships on Monday pushed his earnings this year to pounds 144,192, and yesterday another large cheque appeared to be heading his way.

Which would be creditable even if he thought he was playing well, but Campbell was so unhappy he asked for advice from two Kiwis in Britain for next week's Amateur Championship. They decided his posture was too stooped, and once the 26-year-old had acclimatised to his new position, he had the intimidating presence of the All Black forward he once aspired to be.

The inward half was completed in a blistering six-under that had just 11 putts and included a majestic three wood of 235 yards at the par-five 17th to 20 feet that yielded an eagle.

While Campbell went from bad to better, his playing partner, Colin Montgomerie, was travelling in the opposite direction. Five under after 12 holes, the defending champion bogeyed the 14th and penultimate holes and was questioning his reason by the end. "If you can't make a five at the 17th, you need your head examining," he said.

Which is close to Ian Woosnam's current thinking. The 1993 champion hit a 74 yesterday, to which his comment was: "Nothing to say. Nothing at all." A third consecutive missed cut beckons today.