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Consolation win for Seve over Monty again

Seve Ballesteros can sometimes play strokes of near genius. Little that he does on a golf course should be a surprise. His unexpected performances, such as when he beat Colin Montgomerie to win the Seve Trophy for the Continent of Europe two years ago — when Ballesteros was ranked in the 500s and Montgomerie No 3 in the world — are explained by a nudge, a nod and a wink and a chorus of: “That’s Seve for you.”

Guess what? Two years later, racked by a hacking cough and by now slumped to 1,240th in the world, Ballesteros has done it again. He lit up a damp, drab and cold afternoon at Druids Glen as if he was powered by the National Grid. He beat Montgomerie, ranked No 29 in the world, by one hole in the top singles of the Seve Trophy and every one of the spectators who watched the match will remember it for the rest of their lives.

Ballesteros’s heroics inspired something of a comeback by his team-mates but could not stop Great Britain and Ireland from winning by 14½ to 11½. Darren Clarke pulled away against Thomas Björn to bring Great Britain and Ireland’s first point of the day and then the powerful engine-room of Montgomerie’s team, Paul McGinley, Lee Westwood and Padraig Harrington, came through to secure the victory that had been on the cards since Great Britain and Ireland took a two-point lead after Friday’s play.

It was fitting that the winning point was secured by Harrington because the Irishman had played well for three days. Inspired by performing near the city of his birth, Harrington was still on a high after finishing fifth in the Masters. On this evidence, he and McGinley are an obvious partnership for the Ryder Cup in five months.

Ballesteros was consistent only in his inconsistency. His drive on the 3rd travelled no more than 50 yards before hitting a tree and his drive on the 14th dived into a bush a few yards in front of him, from which he could only chip out to the ladies’ tee. He failed to reach the fairway from the tee on 13 of the 14 driving holes and failed to reach the green with his tee-shot on three of the four short holes. Yet such was the level of his chipping and putting — he single-putted ten of the 18 greens — that he was three-up on Montgomerie after 11 holes.

It was a grim afternoon for Montgomerie, the captain of the Great Britain and Ireland team, who played poorly and was a conservative five over par. The Scot looked inordinately nervous at the start and, even though he won the 1st, the only hole on which a Ballesteros drive found the fairway, Montgomerie had difficulty controlling his nerves. “I’m fast at my job, you’re slow at yours,” was one snappy remark to a TV cameraman early in the match.

When Ballesteros was in his prime you could stand down a fairway and look back at him on a tee and be unable to differentiate between his practice swing and his drive, so smooth and similar were the two actions. His practice swing remains as elegant, smooth and rhythmical as it was, his hands going through to a high finish at which he is well balanced. When he hits a drive — and it is usually only when he hits a drive — his body contorts slightly on the downswing and sometimes his right hand comes off the club grip after impact. The ball almost always flies left.

Ballesteros’s remarkable afternoon was summed up in three holes, the 9th, 10th and 11th. When playing his second shot on the 9th, his back was brushing against a sapling and he spent several moments practising his swing before backing away and saying: “It is very difficult.” Then he took up his address position again, took his cap off and threw it to the referee, had another five practice swings and lofted his ball over 70-foot trees to the front of the green. From there he played an exquisite pitch and run that left his ball one foot from the hole. Hole halved.

Ballesteros’s swing on the 10th tee again looked ragged and again his ball thudded into the rough to the left of the fairway, almost under a chestnut tree. From there Ballesteros was unable to see most of the green, never mind the flag. A wonderful iron over trees got him to 25 feet, closer than Montgomerie, who had again been in the middle of the fairway. Montgomerie charged his first putt four feet past the hole and three putted. Three down.

On the 11th, Ballesteros played his third stroke from the rough 60 yards from the flag, managing to keep his ball low enough to avoid an outstretched branch and still make it stop four feet from the hole. Hole halved.

Years ago, druids used these parts for ancient ceremonies. Yesterday some sorcery and witchcraft of a different nature took place. “I am pretty talented, but nothing like this guy here,” Montgomerie said of Ballesteros. No one in the modern game and few in its long history have been anything like Ballesteros.

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