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Seve Ballesteros makes Senior debut

Seve Ballesteros doesn't want fans to expect a repeat of his PGA Tour debut, when he won the Greater Greensboro Open 29 years ago.

Freshly turned 50, the former Masters and British Open champion competes in his first Champions Tour event starting Friday in the Regions Charity Classic on the 7,503-yard, par-72 Robert Trent Jones Golf Course at Ross Bridge.

Ballesteros has only played in the British Open and the Masters in the past two years and isn't putting pressure on himself at the $1.6 million Classic, where the winner gets $240,000.

"What I expect is just to enjoy the tournament," said the Spaniard, who became eligible after his 50th birthday in April. "If I finish in the top, that would be fantastic. If I finish at the bottom, it won't change anything.

"I haven't competed for a long time. I haven't been under pressure for a long time. The concentration may be there, it may not be."

Ballesteros brings another big name to the 50-and-over circuit, even if he's not promising a quick return to the form that helped him win the British Open three times and the Masters twice.

In fact, before Tiger Woods won the Masters a decade ago, Ballesteros was the youngest winner at Augusta, claiming the title in 1980 at 23 years, 4 days.

He also finished second at the British Open as a 19-year-old. Ballesteros went on to win five majors and 87 events internationally and on the PGA Tour, but now he's a Tour youngster again.

Ballesteros will be paired Friday with Lee Trevino and Jay Haas, the current leader in money and Schwab Cup points.

"His skill is up on a par with the greatest who have ever played the game," said Haas, calling Ballesteros an "unbelievable" wedge player, chipper and putter.

"There was no backup in Seve. He could see what he wanted to do and do it," Haas said.

Ballesteros said he follows the Champions Tour, including many of his friends and former playing rivals, on Spanish television. Maybe that's one reason why he's not predicting a quick rise to the top.

"The quality of golf that the players play with is fantastic," said Ballesteros, who has been bothered by chronic back pain in recent years. "I don't for one second think that coming over here for me will be like a piece of cake. It will be very tough."

Another reason for caution: His 22-over 166 in the Masters in April placed him dead last.

Ballesteros expects to compete next week in the Senior PGA Championship, the year's first major, and said he is back in professional golf for the competition and the fun.

"A real golfer, we all carry the game in our blood and in our heart," he said. "We like to compete. To compete means not only to play good shots. To compete is to feel the pressure when you have to produce a good shot at the right moment or make a good putt at the right moment."

Ballesteros said he feels good physically. Mentally, he's happy to be back competing.

"That adrenaline that goes on at that particular time, that's what I miss."

 

May 18, 2007




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