July 30, 2006

Karlsson boosts Ryder Cup hopes with European win

By Norman Dabell

GUT KADEN, Germany (Reuters) - Robert Karlsson claimed his
second victory of the season with a four-shot European Players
Championship success on Sunday which boosted his chances of a
Ryder Cup debut.

The Swede's final-round, five-under-par 67 took him to
25-under-par 263, four strokes ahead of Briton Lee Westwood and
South Africa's Charl Schwartzel.

Karlsson's win at Celtic Manor in the Wales Open earlier in
the year was achieved with a stumbling final round.

This time the tall Swede looked to be striding to victory
in no uncertain manner, six shots ahead of Schwartzel playing
the last, but Karlsson was forced to sign off with a closing
double-bogey after losing a ball in a hazard.

His nearest overnight challenger, Westwood, reduced his
lead to one stroke with an opening birdie but the Briton,
looking for a third title at Gut Kaden, soon faltered and
needed a big finish to gain a share of second place.

On the fourth, Westwood double-bogeyed after finding a
hazard, and the way was open for Karlsson to go on and collect
the $761,000-dollar first prize, which also earned him 600,000
Ryder Cup points.

That took him into the Ryder Cup table top 10 and gave him
a chance to end a seven-year wait after being snubbed for a
team place in 1999.

That year, although he finished only one place away from
automatic qualifying in 11th, Europe's captain Mark James chose
the 12th-placed man, Briton Andrew Coltart, instead, a decision
which Karlsson said in Wales had almost caused him to retire
from tournament golf.

Having moved eight places to seventh on the European Ryder
Cup table, Karlsson can forget his omission in 1999 if he can
retain his position in five weeks' time when the European team
is chosen at the BMW International in Munich, a tournament he
won in 1997.


After also moving into the world top 50, Karlsson's
feelings have changed greatly since he nearly quit golf six
years ago.

"Missing out in 1999 was a blow but I didn't want to stop
playing because of the Ryder Cup. In 2000 I played very poorly
and I felt very lost on the golf course, that's why I wanted to
stop," said Karlsson.

"Now finally I understand where I went wrong. I put too
much pressure on myself.

"As far as the Ryder Cup is concerned, I will probably get
in the way it looks now. Obviously I want to be in. That's the
bonus for playing well."

Westwood is making a late bid for a fifth Ryder Cup
appearance, although the 2000 European number one was
disappointed that his result took him to only 21st in the

His three birdies in the last four holes for a 69 put him
in great heart for the rest of the season.

"After going four behind at the fourth it was tough going
from there but this will lift me up the world rankings now, so
I am quite positive for the rest of the year and optimistic.

Schwartzel's 65 took the 21-year-old Johannesburg
professional to 11th on Europe's money-list.