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Olazabal aiming to pick up Ryder Cup points

Jose Maria Olazabal will have the Ryder Cup on his mind at this week's Canaries Spanish Open, where he will be chasing his first national Open title.

The twice U.S. Masters champion is languishing 79th in the European Tour order of merit and is determined to make the most of his first appearance in Europe this year as he bids for a seventh Ryder Cup appearance.

"The way I see it, it's going to be difficult for me to make the team if I don't start playing some good golf pretty soon," Olazabal told reporters at Fuerteventura Golf Club on Wednesday.

"It is down to me and how I play from here on.

"I would love to make the team, but my main concern is to be able to hit the ball better and enjoy myself. If I do that, the rest will come."

Olazabal has won two Canaries Open titles, with which the Spanish Open is now combined, and six European Tour events in Spain.

However, victory this week in the first Canaries Spanish Open on the volcanic island of Fuerteventura will boost his chances of qualifying for the European Ryder Cup team, which will face the United States at Oakland Hills, Michigan in September.

The 38-year-old Spaniard was bitterly disappointed to miss out on selection for the 2002 Ryder Cup, when he was overlooked as a captain's pick by skipper Sam Torrance.

If he is to book an automatic berth on this year's team, he needs to improve on his moderate ranking positions in both Cup tables, 24th in the world points list and 34th in the European points list.

The 2004 European team will comprise the top five players in the world points list, the leading five not otherwise qualified in the European points list plus two captain's picks.

Olazabal, who has switched focus this year to the U.S. PGA Tour, has finished 30th at the U.S. Masters and tied for 10th at the season-opening Hong Kong Open in his only two European Tour-counting starts.

However, he added he would take great care not to play too much golf in his bid for a seventh Ryder Cup appearance.

"Through the years, there have been players who have been so keen to make the Ryder Cup team they have played week-in and week-out and, by the time the match arrived, they were knackered," he said.

"I will stick to my schedule and try and do as well as I can in those events."

Britain's Kenneth Ferrie is this week's defending champion, having edged out Ireland's Peter Lawrie and Swede Peter Hedblom for last year's title.

Olazabal's chief threat, though, is more likely to come from his compatriot Carlos Rodiles.

Rodiles, who lost a playoff for the prestigious Volvo Masters title at the end of last season, is back to full fitness after suffering a rib injury. He currently holds the 10th and final automatic qualifying berth in the European Ryder Cup list.

Severiano Ballesteros, whose Amen Corner company promotes the event, misses his first Spanish Open as a professional since he turned pro in 1974. Ballesteros is still plagued by the back problems that ruled him out of this month's U.S. Masters.

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