'Gonzo' looks to overcome back problems
Published 28/07/2011 | 11:57
It is almost August and two European Tour stars have yet to earn their first penny in prize money this year.
But while Nick Dougherty has played 17 events so far in 2011 and in a nightmare run has missed 17 halfway cuts, Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano has not struck a competitive shot since the first week in February.
The former British Masters champion, known as "Gonzo", makes his return from a back injury at the Irish Open in Killarney today.
"I started suffering in December and at first it was thought to be a little herniation of a disc," Fernandez-Castano told Press Association Sport.
"It only really hurt when I was standing up, so I started to carry a shooting stick around with me and sat on it between shots.
"I went to the Middle East thinking that it would disappear, but it never did - it went worse and that's when I decided to quit. I just couldn't cope with the pain.
"It took a while to find what it was and I visited so many people, but then a well-known back specialist in Barcelona diagnosed a degenerated disc.
"I started having epidural injections and was told to do this and that. The last option was to have surgery, but I'm glad that has not been necessary so far.
"It's still painful. I can walk 18 holes, but I do get tired and it gets tight.
"I played a little bit at home in the Easter holidays when I thought I was getting better and was hoping to come back for Wentworth in May, but it was not good enough then.
"I will try to play as much as I can now, but we'll just have to see."
The 30-year-old Tour exemption runs out at the end of this season, but if he fails to earn enough to keep his card he would seek a medical exemption for at least part of next year.
Dougherty does not have that option as he strives to re-ignite his career again this week.
The Irish Open does not have the strongest field in its history with only three members of the world's top 50, but those three are major winners Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell and Dubliner Padraig Harrington, down at 64th in the rankings three years after the last of his three majors, is also in the field.