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Olazabal wants Scottish Open moved

Jose Maria Olazabal, the two-time Masters champion, spoke yesterday of his enduring desire to win the major which means the most to him - the Open, and of his conviction that mounting a future staging of the Barclay’s Scottish Open on a links would further enhance the prestige of an event which already boasts the strongest field in Europe outside the Open.

Paired over the first two days of this £2.2million event with Colin Montgomerie and Phil Mickelson - the modest Spaniard is unlikely to remind the best two players in world golf without a major title of his derring-do at Augusta - Olazabal was delighted to hear of Loch Lomond golf club’s purchase of Dundonald (formerly Western Gailes) earlier this year.

There’s a possibility the links, which opened for previews this week, could be used for the Scottish Open if sponsors and TV were agreeable. Olazabal, for one, believes such a move would benefit everyone in golf.

"I know they have bought a links course and it would be lovely to have the Scottish Open there one day," he said. "It would be ideal and great also for the strength of the field. You would see more American players coming to play on a links prior to the Open."

I reminded Olly of how Tiger Woods, who played in the Scottish Open as an amateur at Carnoustie, once said he would seriously consider including the event on his schedule if it ever returned to a links. "I don’t have any doubts in my mind that would be the situation," he added. "I’m sure Tiger would think about coming and playing."

Although this wonderful iron player and gifted putter is more inconsistent from tee to green than he would like - he hopes coach Butch Harmon can put him back on the straight and narrow next week at Sandwich - Olazabal makes no bones about his regard for golf’s most ancient title.

"When you say ‘The Open’, that’s enough," he smiled. "We all know what it represents. I already have all the amateur titles [British Boys, Youth and Amateur] but I would love to have the Open as well. After the way I played on links courses in my amateur career, it’s one I felt I had a good chance to win in my 20s. For whatever reason, I haven’t done that well. I was third in one and there were a couple of top tens but I’ve usually struggled on the greens."

In spite of his affection for seaside golf, Olazabal is at Loch Lomond because he believes it matters more to play well under pressure. He also relishes the balanced challenge of Tom Weiskopf’s masterpiece and the special demands of the last three holes.

After enjoying a couple of weeks off at his Wentworth home in London, Ernie Els was in no hurry to leave the bonny banks for Dundonald and was thrilled to be back in action on a course he regards as one of the best venues on either the European Tour or the US PGA Tour.

"Its absolutely beautiful, even more so if the weather turns out to be good. It’s one of the most immaculately prepared golf courses we play anywhere in the world. It really is that good," argued the world No2, who last competed at the Buick Classic when he finished 11th.

The Open champion is relishing the prospect of defending his title next week at Royal St George’s and says his swing is exactly where he wants it to be: the bad news for his peers is he believes he’s capable of producing an even higher standard than he did last summer at Muirfield.

"Twelve months on my game is in a lot better shape and I hope to put in a strong performance," he said. "Having had two weeks off, I’m feeling fresh and raring to go.

Els and Olazabal are among the five major winners in this week’s field. The others are 2001 US Open winner Retief Goosen, the Open and Masters champion Sandy Lyle and John Daly, who won the 1991 US PGA and the 1995 Open. Alas, those anticipating the presence of Fred Couples, who won the Masters in 1992, had their hopes dashed when the popular American pulled out yesterday because of back trouble. Couples has been troubled by back pain for years.

He spent much of the past week in bed and was advised not to travel. Nevertheless, Couples is keeping his fingers crossed he’ll recover in time to play in next week’s Open.

While Sam Torrance was also forced to pull out after undergoing a knee operation - he tried to play on Sunday but knew he was rushing his recovery - the Scot was a cheerful presence at Loch Lomond anyway yesterday.

Although disappointed to miss out on competing at one of his favourite tournaments, the enforced withdrawal has given Torrance a chance to watch his son Daniel in action at nearby Helensburgh this week in the Scottish Boys’ Strokeplay.

Torrance will also keep busy as part of BBC TV’s commentary team at Sandwich and hopes to conclude his regular Tour career the following week at Portmarnock for the Irish Open. Thereafter the Seniors circuit beckons with the former Ryder Cup captain starting the next phase of his career at the Roxburghe in the Scottish Seniors Open.

As for Ricky Barnes, the US amateur champion enjoyed his first look at Loch Lomond and was relieved to hear his brother Andrew will caddy for him on Thursday and Friday before heading for Open final qualifying in Kent. Andrew hopes to join his younger brother in the field for Royal St George’s after coming through regional qualifying at Renfrew.


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