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Quirici Leads Turespaña Masters

A 13-man logjam developed at the top of the leaderboard after Thursday's opening round of the Turespaña Masters. Switzerland's Paolo Quirici shot a 65 to take a two-stroke lead over 12 players.

Seven others trailed by three shots.

It was a round in which some of the lesser-known players had their day. Better-known performers struggled on Parador Malaga del Golf's small, fast greens and punishing rough. Darren Clarke, the pre-tournament favourite, finished at 1-over 73. José Maria Olazábal was on level par. Seve Ballesteros beat par by a shot.

And then there was Quirici. His 65 tied the course record.

For years Quirici, 31, played ducks and drakes with retaining and losing his player's card. He never finished above 105th in the European money list before last year, but in 1998, he reached 54th place.

He attibuted his improved form to intensive work with his coach, Andrea Ferrario. "We have made many changes to my game," Quirici said, adding that video of his swing let him "see my mistakes much more clearly."

"In the last few weeks, I've played some very good holes, but also some strange ones," he said. "It affected my morale, but this round was a little better -- I'm hoping it's going to give me my confidence back."

Quirici birdied three of the first four holes, but bogeyed the other. He opened with a two-putt birdie, then dropped a shot after hitting greenside sand. He made up for his error by ramming in a 25-footer for a birdie on the third and holed from 15 feet on the fourth.

Having birdied No. 7, he reached the turn in 32. Then came a breathless sequence of five birdies and a bogey in eight holes. It swept him from a moderate position into the lead. Although he played in the fourth match of the day, he was never overtaken.

Mark James, the Europe Ryder Cup captain, shot a 67 to finish tied for second. The veteran Englishman took 30 putts -- a good total for a man who has always regarded himself as a weak putter.

James still insists he has no intention of playing in this year's Ryder Cup even if he were playing well. "You cannot be captain and player, too, at this level," he said.

Having played with John Bickerton, the hither little known player who has three top-10 finishes this year, James was asked if he had requested the pairing.

"Absolutely not," he said firmly. "I made up my mind when I took this job that I would never manipulate a draw. I think that the ast thing people who are trying to make the team want is the captain hovering around."

"In fact, the only time I would request a different draw would be if I found myself playing in the same group as somebody who was right on the line for selection, and then it would be not to play with him. It just wouldn't be fair."

The biggest contingent in the group of 12 players tied at 67 came from Sweden with five. Per-Ulrik Johansson had five birdies in a round that was devoid of errors, as did Fredrik Lindgren. Dennis Edlund compiled his score slightly differently -- one eagle, three birdies.

Fredrik Jacobson had a couple of dropped shots, but emerged handsomely in credit with seven birdies. Christopher Hanell completed a powerful Swedish presence with an eagle, six birdies and three bogeys. The Swedes played 90 holes of golf and had only five bogeys.

Clarke was in no mood for pleasantries as he left the course after a lacklustre performance. "I missed five greens and was five over par for the ones I missed," he said mournfully. "It was nothing in particular -- just early-season rustiness, I think, but it's still disappointing."

"I made too many stupid errors out there and made too many mistakes around the greens. There are too many little flaws in my technique at the moment."

And with that, he wandered off to the practice ground, not to emerge until four hours later when he pronounced himself "a little happier."

Clarke is not out of this tournament; although he tends to get down on himself, he's a fighter at heart. But it would not be a total shock if he missed the cut.

Olazábal falls into the same category. He didn't exactly leave scorch marks around the course.

"I putted badly and missed a lot of makable putts, my irons were not great and a few times I played the wrong club," he said. "Things are not working."

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