QUITE WHAT the relevance of the Benson & Hedges International will be for the Ryder Cup we will only know in September. A third- round leaderboard without any of the established stars of the European team will not concern captain Sam Torrance as much as the absence of his own name. The 47-year- old had to withdraw shortly before his tee-time.
When it comes to The Belfry, Torrance has enjoyed the best of times and the worst of times. The Scot sprayed around the champagne from the roof of the clubhouse after holing the winning putt in 1985. Eight years later, Torrance was staying at the hotel when playing in a nearby tournament and cracked his sternum on a plant pot while sleepwalking.
Torrance only just made the team for the third of The Belfry's Ryder Cups but suffered a septic toe and could not play in the singles. A year ago, when the B&H event moved to the Brabazon course for the first time, Torrance gashed his head while removing his luggage from the car.
Everything was going far too well when Torrance lay third overnight, four strokes behind the halfway leader, Sweden's Henrik Stenson. But in warming up for his second round early on Friday morning, Torrance had felt a twinge in his ribcage that soon passed. At the end of his practice session later that afternoon, however, "I felt my chest pop". After treatment and an uncomfortable night, Torrance was hoping all would be well. "But the first wedge shot I tried was like a knife going in," he said. "I had more treatment but the physio said I could make it worse by playing and it was not worth the risk. I think it's old age."
Torrance added: "It is a shame but the one good thing is that however many injuries I have in September, it won't affect the performance of the team." That Europe's team will have had up to eight competitive rounds over the remodelled course in the 16 months prior to the 34th Ryder Cup must help them. "It was certainly an advantage that we had played at Valderrama so often before the 1997 match," said Darren Clarke.
Curtis Strange, the US captain, certainly felt it was worthwhile to journey from America for the event, even if none of his players did. Strange said he was more concerned about having a look at the course under competitive conditions than assessing the potential of those Europeans unknown to him.
This weekend would have been the perfect opportunity, but after missing the cut Strange was keen to get home for his son's prom night. He missed little of consequence from the men his team will face in September. Clarke had a 68 early in the morning on another sumptuously sunny day, but Colin Montgomerie trod water with a 71 and Lee Westwood went backwards with a 76. …