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McDowell loses rub of the green

IT was 'Navy Day' in honour of Seve Ballesteros at Wentworth yesterday and the majority of the field at the BMW PGA Championship paid tribute to the Spanish legend by donning sweaters of the same dark blue hue he famously wore.

Graeme McDowell even sought a special dispensation from his sponsors to wear an exact replica of Seve's jumper, Slazenger logo and all, which the Ulsterman had specially made for the occasion.

After such a thoughtful gesture, it was disappointing indeed to see the US Open champion miss the cut by one on five-over after a second-round 72. Once again, McDowell struggled to read the line and pace of the new greens at Wentworth and "putted like a 20-handicapper".

Seve's memory was best served by his fellow countryman Alvaro Quiros and Italian teenager Matteo Manassero with the quality of their golf as they claimed a share of the tournament lead with Luke Donald on six-under.

There also was some wailing and gnashing of teeth as Ian Poulter complained bitterly that recent sweeping changes made by Ernie Els to Wentworth were "too difficult", "unfair" and said it no longer was "fun" to play.

Significantly, Poulter made a double-bogey seven at the last. "I've walked off the golf course and I'm absolutely headless, absolutely fuming," he said.

"I've just made double-bogey after hitting what I thought was the perfect third shot. Maybe I was caught out a tiny bit by the wind and it pitches by the green and finishes in the hazard. Marvellous," he whinged after signing for the 74, which left him on level-par.

"I don't like this golf course, end of story," insisted Poulter, harking back to the Wentworth he used come to "as a kid, watching all the great shots", many of which he believes are no longer possible because of the changes. "The margins now are so small, I think it's a little unfair... Is it fun? It is not!"

One would have more sympathy for the Ryder Cup star had he paid a green fee. Instead, Poulter and his colleagues vie for a €4.5m purse this weekend and should just get on with it.

Els described the West Course as "a fair and honest test of golf" in lengthy statement. Of those players canvassed, only Paul Casey echoed Poulter's criticism, with the feelings of the majority best summed up by Donald and Quiros.

"They have made it very challenging," said the Englishman. "But as long as you come into the tournament with that mindset, knowing it's going to be tough, then you shouldn't have any grumbles."

Quiros, who birdied the final three holes on his way a splendid 67 matched only by recent Spanish Open winner Thomas Aiken of South Africa, retorted: "Fair? Golf is not fair... you just have to play with the things that you have."

Europe's biggest hitter Quiros is the polar opposite to Donald and Manassero, who usually wield their irons, wedges and putter with surgical precision. This is especially impressive in one as young as the Italian, who is still more than a year away from completing high school.

Even more remarkable is Manassero's devotion to Seve, who claimed his fifth and final Major title five years before the 18-year-old was born.

"He's an inspiration to me all the time, especially today when we're remembering him," said Manassero, who was one month old when Ballesteros won for his last event on Tour, the 1995 Spanish Open.

"Yet I will remember him every day. He was a special golfer, a genius, and he will stay in my heart," added the stocky Italian, who showed even greater maturity with his shot-making during yesterday's 70.

A record one-day attendance of 25,472 ramped up the atmosphere at Wentworth yesterday and Manassero admitted he'll be nervous trying to sustain his challenge for such a prestigious third Tour victory in front of such vast galleries at the weekend. Yet one suspects this kid can handle it.


Rory McIlroy rebounded from a frustrating opening 76 to make the cut on the mark. A nice up-and-down from a greenside bunker for birdie at the last were the final strokes of a morale-boosting 70 which rekindled that old 'Quail Hollow spirit' in the 22-year-old.

Darren Clarke once again gave Manassero and McIlroy a tutorial in ball-striking as he eased into a tie for 12th on one-under, though the Ulster veteran was once again frustrated by his failure to sink birdie putts during his second-round 72.

Gareth Maybin will have little time for a stag party before his marriage to Liz McMekin in Belfast on Monday after making the cut on two-over with a second-round 70.

On the guest list is his fellow Ulsterman Michael Hoey, who made the cut for the first time in three appearances at the BMW PGA despite a wobbly finish. Last week's Madeira winner bogeyed 16, 17 and 18 on his way to a second-round 74.

Ireland will be represented by five players in the final 36 holes after a sweet birdie four at 17 saw Shane Lowry post a 72 and squeeze through on four-over.

The PGA Championship,

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Irish Independent