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Spaniards aiming for Ryder Cup boost

If you picked Europeís Ryder Cup team off the world rankings instead of the Order of Merit, the nation with the largest representation at the Belfry in September would probably be Spain, with Sergio Garcia, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jose Maria Olazabal all strolling into the 12-strong side.

Back on home soil from America for the Spanish Open at El Saler in Valencia, the returning armada of golfers are much less certain to play their way into Sam Torranceís plans after choosing to join the US PGA Tour this season and spend most of their time on the other side of the Atlantic.

The truth is Garcia, currently seventh in the Ryder Cup points table, Jimenez, 12th, and Olazabal, 14th, will need to perform particularly well in the majors and world championship events if they want to qualify.

Bearing in mind that Bernhard Langer, the form European in the US this season with earnings of nearly £700,000 , and Florida resident Jesper Parnevik will also be candidates for Torranceís wild cards, itís little wonder Sergio Gomez, Olazabalís manager, says: "It will be a miracle if we field our best team."

As yet, Olazabal, Garcia and Jimenez have not exactly set the heather on fire in America. Nor have they played wretchedly. Ollie is 46th in the US money list with earnings of £249,393 , Sergio is 62nd with £180,796 and Jimenez is 74th with £162,002.

The stats suggest the trio have made a comfortable living without producing the fireworks needed to win US events. That said, even though he doesnít have a top-ten finish to his name, Olazabal has still banked more than any golfer on the Order of Merit in 2001 apart from Pierre Fulke, Michael Campbell and Thomas Bjorn.

Olazabal will be looking to boost his Ryder Cup points this week. Allsport.

Olazabal chose to play the early part of the season on the PGA rather than the European Tour because he says itís easier to find your way around one country rather than nip back and forth between three continents.

The Spaniard is enjoying his time in the States. When asked at Sawgrass how the move had worked out, he quipped: "Great, apart from my golf!" Since then, though, Olazabal has finished in the top 20 at the Players and the Masters and must be regarded as a strong contender to win his first Spanish Open title on Sunday.

Although the Ryder Cup is an important part of his life, Ollie makes no bones about the fact that itís not his only priority. "I canít base my entire calendar on one week," he says.

Yesterday, Olazabal insisted he made the right decision.

"Iím very pleased I have decided to play more in America. The standard is a little bit higher, the courses are better prepared, more consistent and you know where you are with your game. Itís true I wonít be playing many tournaments in Europe this year but it doesnít change things at all. If you donít play well, you donít deserve to get into the Ryder Cup team."

While fourth at Bay Hill was Garciaís best effort to date, the fact that the former Amateur champion is ranked first in driving on the PGA Tour suggests he, too, may have victory in his sights over the weekend.

If itís difficult to imagine a European side without Garcia or Olazabal, thereís unlikely to be any wild card clamour for Jimenez. No oneís idea of the most charismatic golfer, the man from Malaga is still a fine putter and a sturdy competitor. Torranceís team would be poorer for his absence.

Making his first appearance of the season, the captain will have a close-up look at Jimenez when he partners the Spaniard and fellow Scot Andrew Coltart today. All told, ten Scots are in the field: Raymond Russell, Gary Orr, Alastair Forsyth, Stephen Gallacher, Dean Robertson, Andrew Oldcorn, Gordon Brand Jnr and Graham Rankin also hope to follow in the footsteps of Torrance, Colin Montgomerie, Bernard Gallacher and Brian Barnes as winners of the Spanish Open.









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