Ballesteros to study McGinley


PAUL McGINLEY joins Jose Maria Olazabal under the microscope when the Portuguese Open begins at Aroiera near Lisbon today.

The Dubliner, just back from sharing 11th place with Darren Clarke in the Malaysian Open won by their "stablemate" Lee Westwood, will play the opening 36 holes in the company of Ryder Cup captain Seve Ballesteros.

With the Spaniard yesterday in one of his uncommunicative moods, struggling with his fitness and a wayward game, it may not be an experience McGinley will relish as he attempts to make up ground in the Volvo ranking and Ryder Cup points table where he is respectively 22nd and 21st.

Ballesteros is taking every opportunity he can to acquaint himself with the form of Ryder Cup hopefuls, and already knows the strengths of the leading Irish contenders Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington.

It is the state of his own game which is causing the Spaniard most heartache at the moment. "It has not been a very good start to my year," he agreed yesterday. "What happened in Dubai (he shot 84 to miss the cut for the third consecutive week) is in the past. I am working on my game, and if I keep trying soon or later things will change."

Some things never change, however, and one of those is his reaction when he realises one of his secrets has been unearthed. He at first denied that he had been in Munich last week to consult the German surgeon who has been responsible for Olazabal's victory, but then admitted as much when told his Ryder Cup partner had already confirmed it.

"It is a private matter and I don't need to talk about it," he said.

Olazabal, in contrast, was positively loquacious about his state of health since he returned to tournament golf with a 12th place in Dubai. "I had four days rest afterwards and took it easy, just hitting balls in the afternoons," he, said.

"But there was no serious reaction and if it is still the same after this week and next, when I will play in the Turespana Masters in the Canaries, then everything will be all right for Augusta. I will play in New Orleans the week before, then it will be the big test."

Olazabal says he has not been taking any medication for two months and that his routine after playing 18 holes is to have physiotherapy on his lower back, then a hot bath, after which he does toe exercises.

"For the next month I will be taking it two tournaments at a time," he added. "That is why I will not play in the Players Championship. Three weeks in a row would be too much of a risk at this stage."

Two in a row is what Clarke plans over the next fortnight in Europe. The Ulsterman was runner up for this title after a play off with Adam Hunter at Lisbon's Penha Longa course two years ago. He will also go to Gran Canaria but then jets off again to foreign fields, this time in Argentina in the first week of April.

After a break during Masters week he says Clarke says he will be playing almost everything in the run up to the final Ryder Cup qualifying in August.

McGinley plans to compete in the Madeira Open, then return for Cannes and miss the Italian Open, during which is sister is getting married.

Christy O'Connor Jnr withdrew at the last minute this week, but Eamonn Darcy and Des Smyth return, and Padraig Harrington plays his eighth successive event.

Having won over £45,000 in the previous seven, for which he is a collective 31 under par, Harrington has consolidated in both Volvo ranking and Ryder reckoning and starts here in 12th position in both.

Ronan Rafferty and David Higgins are also in the field challenging for a top prize of £58,330.