Walton spearheads the Irish challenge

 

PHILIP WALTON is determined that he will never again suffer the embarrassment of being disqualified for hitting the wrong golf ball.

Ireland's Ryder Cup hero was ruled out of his first tournament of the season in Sun City for striking an amateur partner's ball during the Pro Am event and that helped to turn a two week foray to South Africa into a "disaster".

The following week Walton shot scores of 80 and 75 and failed to make the halfway cut in the South African PGA Championship in Johannesburg.

"I should never have gone down there because I was not ready to play", he admitted yesterday, on the eve of the Catalan Open at Bonmont near Tarragona in Spain, where the Malahide golfer defends the title he won at Perelada near the French border last year.

Walton has now added a pair of crimpling tongs to his equipment so he can stamp his golf ball with his initials. Just in case anyone else's correspond to Philip Joseph Walton he has decided to mark the letter O instead of J so that his golf balls now bear the legend POW.

"That is different and ought to make sure no one else claims my ball or that I make the same mistake as I did in South Africa," he said.

Walton is delighted with the Trent Jones designed course where David Feherty distinguished himself by setting a course record of 61 (11 under par) four years ago. Feherty has returned to the US after his highly successful trip to South Africa where he was fourth in Durban to take his winnings so far to over £44,000.

That leaves Walton as the spearhead of the Irish challenge for a £50,000 title and he is eagerly anticipating the challenge.

"It is a big strong course with a lot of strong par fours," he remarked. "My main problem will be the slopes on the fast greens. If you are not careful the ball can run away from the hole very quickly."

Walton believes he has now reached a standard which will provide him with regular opportunities to gain more European victories. I am at the level where I should be producing strong challenges every week rather than blowing hot and cold" he said

Paul McGinley's performance in Perth, where he was second to Ian Woosnam, and a 21st place in Durban last week have put him sixth in the money list with almost £60,000. Today the Dubliner gets a prime start with Argentinian Eduardo Romero and Spaniard Santiago Luna.

Raymond Burns and John McHenry who both performed solidly in the Far East and South Africa have also made the exhausting journey to Spain where Belfast's Jimmy Heggarty makes his first appearance after regaining his card at the Qualifying School.

The early season segment is viewed with mixed feelings by the professionals and will be the subject of a full scale debate in Morocco and Dubai during the next two weeks. Newcomers like Padraig Harrington, David Higgins and Francis Howley and other challenge Tour and School graduates have had only limited chances. This week they have the opportunity to make up for lost time.

Mark James and David Gilford who shared in Europe's Ryder Cup heroics with Walton at Oak Hill emerge from hibernation to tackle a windswept course where accuracy will be the most important attribute to avoid the peril of rocky ravines and outcrops.

. The new European Ryder Cup captain, Seve Ballesteros, is the first big name entry for this year's Alfred Dunhill Masters in Hong Kong.

The Spanish player has confirmed his participation at the £333,000 event, which will be hosted by the Hong Kong Golf Club from October 31st to November 3rd.

Sponsors Dunhill, who have hosted the Masters in Bali and Jakarta in the past two years, say there will be a mixture of world famous names alongside Asia's top players.