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Half way point for Ryder cup qualifying

The race for places in Europe's Ryder Cup side reaches its halfway point at the conclusion of the Peugeot Spanish Open in Barcelona.

Nineteen tournaments will have been played; 19 more will be still to come - and it is not only Nick Faldo who needs to get his skates on if he is to retain his place in the team.

The top 10, who earn automatic places at the end of the race on August 22, currently contains only five of the victorious line-up from Valderrama two years ago - Colin Montgomerie, Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke and Bernhard Langer.

The other five are Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez (fourth), Scot Andrew Coltart (sixth), Germans Sven Struver (seventh) and Alex Cejka (ninth) and England's David Howell (eighth).

Of the other seven men Seve Ballesteros had under him in 1997 not one is even in the leading 20 of the race so far. Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Per-Ulrik Johansson, Costantino Rocca, Thomas Bjorn, Ignacio Garrido and Jesper Parnevik have all hardly got off their starting blocks, and if they fail to make up lost ground their only way in is as one of two wild cards.

New captain Mark James has already warned Faldo, the most capped player in history, that he cannot rely on past deeds to get him the nod this time.

So the 41-year-old former world number one, without a tour victory for 25 months and a halfway casualty at the Masters for the third year running two weeks ago, has flown to El Prat for the latest leg of the qualifying marathon.

"There are still plenty of opportunities, but obviously I'm hoping to make good use of the next few events I'm playing in - they all count," said Faldo.

Before returning to the States he is also playing in the Benson and Hedges International at The Oxfordshire in three weeks' time, the Deutsche-Bank Open in Germany the following week and then the Volvo PGA championship at Wentworth.

Most Spanish eyes today were on Olazabal, making his first appearance since his Augusta triumph, on 19-year-old Sergio Garcia, making his professional debut, and on Ballesteros - if he can play.

Ballesteros, whose last success was this event four years ago and who is now outside the world's top 450, is suffering from a knee injury, missed yesterday's pro-am and needed fluid removing.

Garcia, meanwhile, was looking ahead to what many experts are predicting will be a glittering career.

Last year's British amateur champion has joined the paid ranks after becoming the first European to win the silver cup as top amateur at the Masters, making it a real Spanish double.

But Olazabal is warning everybody not to place too much pressure on his obvious heir apparent. Garcia does not fear the same fate as Justin Rose - 17 starts, 17 missed cuts so far - and has as his goal earning enough money (about £55,000 probably) in seven tournaments to avoid the European tour qualifying school at the end of the season.

"Leave the kid alone," pleaded Olazabal.

"If you do he will achieve things quicker."

 

TRW