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Golf News: - Posted 22nd April 1998

Ballesteros collects Olympic Honour

Barcelona, Spain - Severiano Ballesteros became only the second Spanish sportsman to receive the coveted Olympic Order in a ceremony on Wednesday.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) chairman Juan Antonio Samaranch presented the medal to Ballesteros for services to the Olympic Games and golf at a ceremony at the El Prat Golf Club on the eve of the Spanish Open.

Ballesteros, who has won five major golf championships and last year led Europe to victory over the United States in the Ryder Cup, campaigned to get the Games awarded to Barcelona in 1992.

``It is with great joy that I receive the honor,'' said Ballesteros, 41.

``I was advertising Barcelona '92 for three years. But also Mr. Samaranch knows I am always fighting for the game of golf and that I want eventually to see it an Olympic sport if the authorities like the Royal and Ancient at St. Andrews and the Professional Golfers' Associations can agree how it can be done.''

The only other Spaniard to get the award was Miguel Indurain, who won the Tour of Spain cycling classic for a record five consecutive years.

Ballesteros won the last Spanish Open to be played at El Prat in 1981 but lack of confidence after a poor showing in the U.S. Masters -- which he has won twice -- made him play down his chances of taking his fourth home country title.

Instead he tipped Spain's 18-year-old amateur Sergio Garcia to win this week.

``He can beat all the pros here because he has everything already,'' said Ballesteros, who likened Garcia to American Tiger Woods, because of his success rate in the amateur ranks, and to compatriot Jose Maria Olazabal for the similarities in game.

Olazabal is the favourite to take his first Spanish Open title and can move within 10,500 of current European Tour rankings leader Ernie Els, who is not in the Barcelona field, if he takes the 91,660 first prize.

Germany's Bernhard Langer, winner four times on tour last year, is also strongly fancied. England's Mark James, who beat Greg Norman in a playoff for this title in Madrid last year, defends.