Monday 27 February 2017

Olazabal delight as Ryder big guns fire

GOLF

Bernie McGuire , in Crans-sur-Sierre

Jose Maria Olazabal could not have been happier as two of his expected Medinah stars raced to the top of the leaderboard at the Omega European Masters on the first day of qualifying for the 2012 Ryder Cup.

On a day Olazabal was asked to remember Seve Ballesteros in setting a commemorative plaque in concrete, Martin Kaymer birdied his closing two holes in a round of 65 before being joined by Rory McIlroy on six-under on the Crans-sur-Sierre course.

The duo, who were members of last year's winning Ryder Cup side at Celtic Manor, are among four players on six-under, two strokes behind England's Nick Dougherty.

Dougherty looks certain to end a horror run of 20 missed cuts this year after carding an eight-under-par 63 -- his best score since shooting a final-round 64 to capture the 2009 BMW International.

And in a strange twist, it was his wife, Sky Sports reporter Di Dougherty, who had the task of interviewing him -- the only player not to have earned a single cent among the 369 playing on the European Tour this season.

"It feels great to shoot a 63, as I have not had a lot to be happy about," he said. "It's been tough coming home and having to deal with constant disappointment."

McIlroy, watched by a large number of Swiss youngsters wearing 'Team Rory' T-shirts, showed no ill-effects of his injured right wrist and dropped just one stroke at his 13th before firing three birdies over his closing four holes.

"It's a great way to start the week," he said. "When I had a chance to win here in 2008, I also got off to a great start and shot a 63, so it's good to get off to another fast start."

And his efforts not only delighted his young followers but also Olazabal, the 2012 European Ryder Cup captain.

"It's great for me that Ryder Cup qualifying has finally started and, while there is a very long way to go, it's good to have some of the big guys up there so quickly," said Olazabal after carding a 75.

"At least players like Martin, Rory, Lee (Westwood), Darren (Clarke) and the Molinaris are here and they are making a point with regards to the Ryder Cup." Clarke and Westwood finished on four-under.

Belfast's Michael Hoey was one of the early leaders, but he dropped three strokes over his inward half in a round of 70. Peter Lawrie also shot 70, which included back-to-back double-bogeys at his 15th and 16th holes.

Also in red figures on one-under is Shane Lowry, while Ballyclare's Gareth Maybin returned to competition after his honeymoon to record a one-over 72.

Meanwhile, in a major boost to this month's Vivendi Seve Trophy, both Westwood and Clarke have now committed to the event.

In the United States, Padraig Harrington tees it up at the Deutsche Bank Championship where he will be hoping to at least finish inside the top 70 on the FedEx Cup standings and go a step closer to qualifying for the Tour Championship. Graeme McDowell will also be in action over the weekend.

European Masters,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 10.30am

Deutsche Bank Championship,

Live, Sky Sports 3, 10.0pm

Irish Independent

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