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Ryder Cup hopefuls tee up in Madeira

Dutchman Maarten Lafeber will be keeping one eye on Ryder Cup qualification while he plays in this week's Madeira Island Open.

The 29-year-old, who made his European Tour breakthrough with victory at last year's Dutch Open, occupies the 10th and final spot in the European Ryder Cup points list going into the tournament at Santo da Serra, which starts on Thursday.

Lafeber fully appreciates his tenuous position, though, with many of Europe's golfing heavyweights, who are competing this week in the elite Players Championship at Ponte Vedra in Florida, poised to overtake him.

A first prize of $122,000 in Madeira would, however, help keep his rivals at bay.

"I'm just trying to get into a rhythm again because I haven't played much this year through being sick for a while," Lafeber said on Wednesday after returning from three weeks' illness.

"In Dubai, I got some sort of bacteria infection of the stomach but now I'm looking forward to building up for a big European season.

"A good result this week would help my Ryder Cup cause. My coach and I have decided that, if my game continues to improve this year, then my place will take care of itself.

"At the moment, I'm in a good position but I don't stand on the first tee thinking about it," added the Dutchman, who tied for second in Madeira in 2002."

Holders Europe will defend the Ryder Cup against the United States at Oakland Hills in Michigan from September 17-19.

Lafeber's other immediate aim this week is to return to the world's top 100. He currently lies 124th.

The Dutchman will be playing alongside two other Ryder Cup hopefuls in Madeira, Britons Nick Dougherty and Graeme McDowell.

Another Briton, Bradley Dredge, will be defending his title at Santo da Serra Golf Club, having fired a blistering 12-under-par 60 in the third round on his way to an eight-shot victory last year.

Dredge, at 98, is the highest ranked player in this week's field.

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