Biggest home favourites are missing from Spanish Open

THE Spanish Open will go ahead in Seville this week without two of Spain's biggest stars.

Jose Maria Olazabal designed the Real Club course on which Frenchman Thomas Levet will defend the title, but the 44-year-old, plagued by rheumatism, still does not feel well enough to play what would have been his first event for over six months. Sergio Garcia, on the other hand, simply has other priorities.

Garcia's rare appearances in Britain have been attributed to the tax system, but he has not played his national championship since 2003.

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Without a top-three finish since he went to world No 2 by capturing the HSBC Champions event in Shanghai in November 2008, the 30-year-old is now down to 24th on the rankings, but hopes to bounce back to form at next week's Players Championship in Florida. That was the scene for the biggest win of his career two years ago.

Sad though Garcia's recent decline has been, it has nothing on what Olazabal has been going through – and when he will next play is anybody's guess.

"I have no idea," his manager Sergio Gomez said. "He's practising and when he played a round ten days ago he played superbly. But he does not feel good enough to play several days in succession. He does not have the strength or the will for that."

His hardest tournament of all to miss was, of course, the Masters earlier this month.

Olazabal's two major triumphs have come at Augusta, the second of them in 1999 a highly emotional affair after he battled back from a crippling state that had kept him out of action for 18 months.

His last event was the Castello Masters in October and he was in joint fourth place at halfway before slipping down to 14th.

As that was his 16th start of the European Tour season – more than double what he managed in 2007 and 2008 – there were high hopes that he was on the road to recovery.

But then Olazabal's condition worsened again and he is now trying alternative medicines to get him to a point where he can begin competing again.

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It was in Seville last year that he said he was not sure he wanted to act as a Ryder Cup vice-captain for the second match in a row.

He had been seen as the front-runner for the top job at Celtic Manor this October, but by the time he made himself available the tournament committee had persuaded Colin Montgomerie to stand.

Now Olazabal, whether he agrees to assist his former team-mate or not, is viewed as favourite for Chicago in 2012, but if his absence from the game goes on much longer he could find the odds on him being appointed get longer as well.