Tuesday, 17 April 2001
One of the oldest championships in world golf returns to one of the truly great venues this week when the Via Digital Open de España is played over the Campo del Golf El Saler near Valencia in Spain.

Two-time Masters champion José Maria Olazábal and his fellow Ryder Cup player, Miguel Angel Jiménez, return to action following a spring sojourn in the United States and a successful Masters Tournament as The European Tour reaches mainland Europe again.

El Saler, sculpted out of rugged linksland close to the Mediterranean, last hosted a European Tour event in 1996 when Diego Borrego of Spain captured his first Tour victory in the Turespaña Masters Open Comunitat Valenciana Paradores de Turismo.

The man from Malaga shot rounds of 66-67-69-69 for a 17 under par total of 271, which tied Zimbabwe's Tony Johnstone. Borrego went on to claim the title at the second hole of a sudden-death play-off.

However Bernhard Langer will always be synonymous with El Saler following his two triumphs in the Open de España in 1984 and 1989. His first victory among the dunes of El Saler produced one of the outstanding rounds of golf in European Tour history.

The German Ryder Cup player went into the final round seven strokes behind Howard Clark but fired a record ten under par 62 for a total of 275 and a two shot winning margin over the Englishman. Langer rates that round, along with his other 62 at Valderrama, as one of the highlights of his career.

Five years later, Langer triumphed again, this time shooting 70-72-67-72 for a total of 281 and a three stroke margin over Spain's José Maria Cañizares and England's Paul Carrigill.

More recently, another Spaniard, Carl Suneson, enjoyed the winning feeling at El Saler in the Challenge de España on the European Challenge Tour in 1999 on his way to heading the Rankings that season and regaining his full privileges on The European Tour.

Suneson adores the sea breezes and rugged terrain which make El Saler such a wonderful test. He said: "Firstly, it is a great golf course. The design is fantastic. What makes it difficult is the wind as it is right by the sea.

"All the holes are pretty tough. You have a few holes among trees and the wind whistling between the trees makes the challenge more difficult. The greens are nicely designed so if you miss, it is a tough up and down. The back nine is more of a links course - a bit more exposed.

"You know where the wind is coming from but that doesn't make it any easier. All the holes are key. The 17th is a great par three and the 18th is tough - 466 yards with a howling wind off the right and out of bounds on the left. If there is no wind we could eat it up but with the wind whistling it is a tough course."

This year's Via Digital Open de España has attracted a top class field with Olazábal and Jiménez joined by Seve Ballesteros, Darren Clarke, Sergio Garcia and Ian Woosnam. Brian Davis of England, defends the title he won at PGA Golf de Catalunya last year.

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