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Golf: Bickerton adrift of Webster path towards glory.

Two of the Midlands' top golfers experienced contrasting fortunes in the Spanish sunshine as the Volvo Masters got underway in Jerez yesterday.

After leading early in the day at Montecastillo, Warwickshire's Steve Webster ultimately finished in third place overnight, after a six-under par 66.

But, for his Worcestershire pal John Bickerton, a first-round one-over 73 leaves him in imminent danger of losing his place in the Top 20 of the Volvo Order of Merit, and a lucrative invitation to next week's concluding Tour event, the WGC American Express championship at Valderrama, where he could claim pounds 10,000 just for turning up.

While Wolverhampton's Peter Baker was handily-placed after a 69, of the local contingent, it was Webster's day as his 66 left him four shots behind runaway first-round leader Retief Goosen, and just a stroke adrift of Welshman Philip Price.

The 23-year-old from Atherstone - who now plays out of the Ansty Golf centre just outside Coventry - went to the top of the leaderboard after opening up with three birdies in his first four holes. But, although dropping a shot at the second, he added more red numbers at the eighth and ninth to go out in 32.

It was a lot more routine coming home, Webster collecting eight pars as well as an eagle five at the par-five 517-yard 16th to stand third in a six-man group on six under that also included his hero Bernhard Langer, Ryder Cup star Padraig Harrington, and today's playing partner Jamie Spence - who goes out with him in the second last group at 1.54 this afternoon.

Baker bounced back from his only bogey of the day at the short second to match Open champion Paul Lawrie with four birdies in a 69. But for Bickerton and fellow Midlander Paul Broadhurst there was frustration.

After birdieing the second, Broadhurst then immediately went bogey, double bogey.

And although he birdied the seventh, and then parred in, he was still one over at the end of the day and at the back of the select 67-man field alongside Bickerton, both needing a significant improvement today.

While Broadhurst is out simply to maintain his fine form in the second half of the season, for Bickerton the stakes are higher. Protecting his Top 20 ranking spot could prove difficult for the man from Droitwich - England's third most successful golfer this season - if he does not pick up a cheque this week.

And, with the likes of Gary Orr, David Howell, Andrew Coltart and David Carter all snapping at his heels, his automatic exemption for next year's Open at St Andrews is also on the line.

To cast a further cloud over the first event in Europe since this week's tragic death of US Open champion Payne Stewart, Ian Woosnam revealed he, too, had suffered his own air scare.

Woosnam, owner of a private jet, was flying from his Jersey home to Spain when the oxygen masks dropped, and a fault with a compression seal was found.

The 41-year-old Shropshire-born former Masters champion flew to Jerez on another plane but did not want to talk about the lucky escape.
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Author:Scott, Ged
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 29, 1999
Words:521
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