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Olazabal backs Ryder Cup rookies to upset the US

No Faldo, no Woosnam, no chance, say the bookies and every golfing know-all over here.

Nonsense, says Jose-Maria Olazabal, who backed Europe's Ryder Cup rookies as they prepared for a first sighting of the enemy at today's NEC Invitational in Akron.

A prize of 650,000 - almost twice the pot Paul Lawrie took home after his Open triumph - awaits the winner at this gathering of golf's elite which pitches representatives of the US and European Ryder Cup teams into battle ahead of next month's event at Brookline.

But reward of a different kind was on the agenda yesterday, with Masters champion Olazabal firing the first shot in what is sure to develop into a keen psychological duel over the next four days.

It did not need neutral Ernie Els to point out the paper advantage held by the Americans, who are fielding only one Ryder Cup debutant to the seven in Mark James's team. The fact that the new boy in question is world No 2 David Duval merely underlines the magnitude of Europe's task.

"On paper the Americans should blow Europe clean out of the water, probably steamroller them," said Els. "If it was strokeplay, the Americans would beat them comfortably."

But Els pointed out that over 18 holes of matchplay, any dog can have its day- a theme picked up by Olazabal.

The Spaniard, adapting the theory that you cannot miss what you have not had, argued that you cannot fear what you have not experienced.

Ollie pointed to the success of compatriot Sergio Garcia to illustrate the value of giving youth its head. "When you are 19 years old, you have no fear. You don't have anything to lose," he said.

"There is no pressure, no responsibility. I think Sergio has taken advantage of that."

He added: "Being so young, and being the first time you play the Ryder Cup, you don't have the responsibility of doing well. You might be playing against the best players in the world on paper, without a doubt.

"But somehow, that might take a lot of pressure off the new players. Hopefully they will feel no fear.

"I've seen quite a few newcomers on the team. Different years, different players and most of them have done well.

"When Peter Baker played at the Belfry, that was amazing. He played with Woosie and Ian said he did nothing at all, it was all down to Peter. He was only 21 years old. Amazing!"

Olazabal goes head to head with Woods, while Garcia is paired with Duval. Though there are no losers, with the last-placed finisher in the 47-strong field netting 15,000, no-one will not want to come off second best psychologically.

Jarmo Sandelin (John Houston), Jean Van de Velde (Mickelson), Lee Westwood (Jeff Maggert) and Paul Lawrie (Payne Stewart) are the other Europeans paired with Ryder Cup opponents.