Seve backs Irish fans

Spanish superstar Seve Ballesteros believes that golf-mad Irish fans can inspire Europe to a fourth Ryder Cup win on the trot.

The five-time Major winner, 49, could announce his retirement from competitive golf next year.

But he he will definitely skipper Continental Europe in the Seve Trophy at The Heritage in Co Laois next September, where he hopes the Irish fans will lift the cream of European golf before the Ryder Cup match in Kentucky.

Speaking at the launch, Ballesteros said: “Irish golf fans already had a great reputation for their tremendous enthusiasm for the game of golf, but the first ever Ryder Cup played in Ireland proved just how supportive they are of our players.

“Players on both sides of the Seve Trophy 2007 teams will be among those who qualify for the next Ryder Cup team and Irish fans can really inspire them to go on and make it four wins in a row.”

Europe has been undefeated in the Ryder Cup since the Seve Trophy series began in 2000.

Rookies such as Paul McGinley, David Howell, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson have gained valuable experience in Seve Trophy contests before making their Ryder Cup debuts.

The match pits Europe’s leading players in a team match play event between Continental Europe and Great Britain & Ireland from 27-30 September next year.

Europe’s next Ryder Cup captain, Nick Faldo, will come up against Seve as opposing non-playing captains in the Seve Trophy.

And he plans to use the experience to prepare himself for a clash with American counterpart Paul Azinger at Valhalla in 2008.

Speaking via satellite, Faldo said: “I couldn’t ask for a better way to cut my teeth on team captaincy than to match up against Seve Ballesteros and his Continental Europe team in the Seve Trophy and I’m really looking forward to it.

“I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Europe has remained undefeated in Ryder Cup matches since the Seve Trophy began in 2000.

“Seve’s creation of the Seve Trophy has clearly helped to develop our top players into formidable match play competitors and I hope to benefit from that twice over.”

He added: “Any team led by Seve is going to be tough to beat, especially on a course that he knows inside out.

“The guys who qualify or are selected for both teams will be doing all they can to win and also put down personal markers for the next Ryder Cup match at the same time. So the level of commitment and passion will be very high.”

Qualification for the Seve Trophy teams began last weekend at the HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai.

The top four players on both the World rankings and European Order of Merit make the respective teams automatically and each captain has two picks to make up the 10-man teams.

The teams play for prize money of €2m, with the winners sharing a €1.25m purse.