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Focus on Seve Ballesteros comeback in Madrid

The golfing world will watch with much more than a passing interest when Seve Ballesteros makes his first tournament appearance in two years at this week's Madrid Open.

The five-times major winner, one of the most charismatic players in the game's history, was briefly confined to a wheelchair last year while undergoing treatment for chronic back trouble.

His best days are certainly long behind him but the 48-year-old Spaniard believes he is now injury-free.

He has even entertained thoughts of a possible victory on Sunday at the Club de Campo in Madrid.

Cynics would argue that this is merely a publicity stunt for a European Tour event his own company is promoting and that any talk of winning is simply pie in the sky.

Even his keenest fans would probably agree that a 51st European Tour success for Ballesteros is almost certainly out of the question.

However, the Spaniard is now swinging the club with miraculous freedom, given that he was left crippled and bedridden with back problems early last year, and is still capable of on-course Houdini acts with his shot-making magic.

Although Ballesteros has not tasted victory since the 1995 Spanish Open, he remains one of the greatest exponents of the short game among active players on the European Tour.

While making the halfway cut on Friday would be a considerable achievement for the three-times British Open champion, it is not impossible.

"The game is progressing better and better every day and I feel great," he said at last month's Seve Trophy team competition in England.

"I'm on track for Madrid. I know where I am and I know which way I'm going.

"Only winning will satisfy me. You don't think it is possible? It is very possible."

At the very least, Ballesteros will feel comfortable in Madrid this week. His last tour win came at the same Club de Campo venue 10 years ago.

However, he has not played a serious tournament since he captained Continental Europe at the Seve Trophy in November 2003.

He had initially planned on making an comeback earlier this year but that was put on hold after he injured his knee when he slipped on a practice mat at San Roque.

Whatever does happen this week, Ballesteros fans will be crossing their fingers that the script favours the short-game genius who became a father figure in Spanish golf.

From the age of seven, he was using a cut-down three iron on the beach near his home in Santander and this certainly helped him master the art of the manufactured shot from just off the green, which has lasted throughout his career.

One of the saddest sights in golf in recent years was of the ailing Ballesteros battling to make the cut in the occasional European Tour event he plays.

He possibly has more fans dotted around the world than even Tiger Woods and yet most of them would probably have preferred he gave up the game, rather than battle on in his unlikely bid to return to the winner's circle.

Ballesteros himself sent out conflicting signals on the subject. Although his heart was bent on continuing playing, his mind seemed to be focused rather more on the comforts of his family life at home.

"I'm not going through hell," he said rather unconvincingly at the end of 2002.

"It is tough when you are used to playing at a certain level and then, all of a sudden, you don't play so well. It's bad.

"But I have had a wonderful career and I have a wonderful life. I'm healthy, have a great family and enjoy a good lifestyle.

"I try my best and I will continue to play this game that has given me so much. I will try to get better."

This week in Madrid will prove exactly how much better he has become since his back woes of last year.

October 11, 2005

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