Chicken counting could be a very hazardous pastime

 

This time a year ago Tony Murnaghan was in second place overall, £170,000 behind the eventual winner of the 1997 Golf Masters, Edward Staunton of Tipperary but, by the end of the competition, he had fallen to 12th place, over £400,000 short of the winning score.

Small wonder, then, that our Dublin manager is refusing to get too excited about leading this year's competition, along with his joint-manager and brother Brian, with eight weeks still to go.

In fact, whenever we speak to Tony these days, and comment that Bargain Basement are looking good, nervous wailing sounds can be heard down the phone, which loosely translate as `please stop counting chickens and tempting fate'.

As Tony always points out to us this year's race for that u £10,000 first prize is the most open in the competition's four-year history. It didn't seem that way up until week 17, when Kevin Barry's Augusta Special appeared to have taken up permanent residence of first place on the overall leaderboard, but since then there seems to have been a marked reluctance on the part of our top managers to lead from the front, as we enter the final phase of the competition.

Since Niall Murray's Seven Up replaced Kevin at the top of the overall leaderboard in week 17 nobody has led the competition for two successive weeks. Robert Sinnott took over at the top in week 18, Fergal Lynch overtook him in week 19, only to be replaced by the Murnaghans a week later . . . who, in turn, were left chasing Paul Sheehan in week 21, when his Pauly 2 line-up took the lead for the first time.

But, thanks largely to the performances of Darren Clarke (second behind Jesper Parnevik) at the Scandinavian Masters in Stockholm and Glen Day (third behind Nick Price and Jeff Sluman) and Bob Estes (fourth) at the St Jude Classic in Memphis Tennessee, the Murnaghans are back on top - this time with a lead of u £81,017 over former leaders The Sixties, managed by Robert Sinnott.

Robert also benefited from Clarke, Day and Estes' profitable weekends, picking up another u £47,740 through Scott Hoch, Lee Janzen and David Carter. Kevin Barry retains third place - his top earners at the weekend were Clarke, Estes and Paul Azinger, whose share of seventh place in Memphis won him u £39,750. Meanwhile, last week's leaders, Paul Sheehan's Pauly 2, won just u £65,000 in week 22, £60,000 of which was contributed by Estes. Despite having only four of his Raiders' line-up in action at the weekend, Ron Dunne, of Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, rose 10 places to sixth - Parnevik, Clarke, Day and Thomas Bjorn won u £251,500 between them.

Top scoring team of the week, however, was The Tuesday Club, managed by Emmett Maher of Lucan, Co Dublin. Mind you, it took us a long time to convince Emmett that we weren't having him on when we rang him with the good news - if you happened to be in the Skylon Hotel on Tuesday afternoon and spotted one of their employees walking around with a glazed expression on his face (while howling `I DON'T BELIEVE IT, I'VE WON A FOURBALL AT MOUNT JULIET') . . . that was Emmett.

Parnevik, Clarke, Sluman, Jean Van de Velde (joint fourth at the Scandinavian Masters), Jay Haas (joint seventh at the St Jude Classic), Domingo Hospital and Carl Suneson amassed the grand total of u £359,250 for The Tuesday Club, some consolation for what Emmett admits has been a "brutal" Golf Masters' year.

The Tuesday Club is made up of Emmett, Kevin Halpin, Martin Malone and Bohemians footballer Derek McGrath.

There's bad news for those managers who have the bulk of their line-ups in action at this week's German Open; it doesn't count in the competition. Back in February, when the schedule for the 1998 Golf Masters was being drawn up, the Czech Open occupied week 23's slot of the European PGA calendar - a month later the tournament was cancelled at the request of the sponsors, because of flood-related disasters in the Czech Republic last summer, and it was replaced by the German Open. However, because the German Open did not feature on our schedule it cannot be included in the competition.

So, week 23's Golf Masters' action takes place in Warwick Hills, Michigan, which stages the Buick Open.