ACCORDING to Seve Ballesteros, 2005 is going to be his year.
Sadly, if the wonderful, charismatic Spaniard doesn't come to his senses, the next 12 months could be ignominious. The year has started badly and may get worse for a man who, although he won one less major than Nick Faldo (who won six), is rightly regarded as the great figure of modern European golf. He has separated from his wife of 16 years, Carmen, with a divorce to follow, while reports of his behaviour have started to concern his army of admirers.
Spending long moonlit hours on the driving range may be acceptable, even admirable, for an aspiring pro, but the image hardly befits a legend, and one, moreover, who will be 48 on the week of the US Masters.
Other behavioural aspects are more damaging. Seve's continuing refusal to accept the game is up could be putting his mental, as well as physical, health at risk.
Ballesteros, who suffers from chronic back problems, has not won a tournament of any note since 1995. In the last 18 months he has been barely able to play, never mind prevail. Yet he continues to beat himself up, with the intensity of the self-flagellation increasing. There are now fears September's Seve Trophy, the matchplay tournament between Europe's best golfers which is held on non-Ryder Cup years, could be badly affected if Ballesteros doesn't accept he is no longer a player in this league.
Despite having started a relationship with Ines Matallana, a woman some 20 years his junior, reports from Spain confirm the once dashing Seve is cutting a sorry figure these days. He looks, as he must surely feel, down and depressed. The break-up of the Ballesteros marriage is hardly setting a social trend, although deeply traumatic for those involved, including the couple's three children, Javier (14), Miguel (12) and Carmen (10). It is, beyond the announcement of the separation, essentially a private matter. Of more genuine public interest is the increasingly precarious nature of the relationship between Ballesteros and his extended family . . . the European Tour.
Like his marriage, this much longer-standing love affair has been pushed to its limit by Seve's refusal to accept the glory days are well and truly over. Ballesteros could have become a revered elder statesman such as Franz Beckenbauer is in football . . . or even a lesser, but still highly influential, figure like John McEnroe in tennis.
Instead, he is becoming a thorn in the side of an organisation which owes a great deal to him.
While Ken Schofield, who retired as executive director of the tour at the end of last month, is credited with building up the prize fund from less than A£500,000 in 1971 to around A£80m this year, it was the bursting onto the scene of the Spaniard a few years later which sparked the sponsorship flame. In what was a deeply conservative sport, Ballesteros behaved more like a footballer than a golfer.
He brought excitement, brilliance and brooding good looks to the links. Even a Slazenger jersey couldn't stop him looking like a hero from a romantic novel.
Among the legions who idolised the swashbuckling Spaniard were George O'Grady and Jose Maria Zamora. Both men have, in recent weeks, found themselves deeply embroiled in the dilemma over what to do with the great man. Zamora was the catalyst for two of the incidents which have portrayed Ballesteros in a bad light. The Spaniard is a European Tour tournament director, and in this capacity had given Ballesteros two slow-play warnings at the Madeira Open in 2003. There was nothing slow-fused about the five-times Major champion's response and he was involved in a very public blazing row with the official in a car park.
That, though embarrassing, was nowhere near as serious as the attack by Ballesteros on Zamora at the Spanish Closed Amateur Championship at the former's home club of Pedrena last September. On this occasion Zamora was off-duty, and playing in the championship, but that didn't prevent Ballesteros allegedly shouting at him, "Why do you hate me? Why do you want to destroy me?" before, according to claims, putting his hands around Zamora's throat.
Inevitably such an incident couldn't be covered up, and the tour demanded an explanation. Their tournament players's committee had already fined him an undisclosed sum for another outburst in 2003, when he had accused the European body of being run like the Mafia, but this time a much stiffer sanction seemed inevitable.
Schofield, and his successor O'Grady, found themselves between a rock and a very obstinate Spaniard.
Ballesteros said he regarded the incident in Pedrena as a private one between him and Zamora; without at least an apology the players' committee would probably have had no option but to suspend the most popular player Europe has ever known.
The matter dragged on before, last month, Ballesteros eventually issued a statement of contrition. "I regret what happened, " he said, "and my apologies to the European Tour and those affected by my wrong manners. I am a passionate character, and the high tension of the moment was detrimental to the situation. I am distressed about any uncomfortable situation it may have caused the Tour and my fellow pros."
That, somewhat leniently, is the end of that matter as far as the European Tour is concerned, but with continuing stories about the eccentric manner of Ballesteros, and his conviction 2005 will be his year, the probability is another bone of contention will soon arise. September may seem a long time away, but issues surrounding the Seve Trophy will have to be resolved long before then.
This is the match which was introduced in 2000 both as a tribute to the Spaniard and as an exercise in giving Europe's leading players practice in the non-Ryder Cup years. Ballesteros lived up to his reputation by defying all the odds to beat the Great Britain and Ireland captain Colin Montgomerie in the singles both in 2000 and 2001. But 14 months ago, in Valderrama, not even the short game brilliance of the continental captain could prevent it being patently obvious he is no longer up to playing in the side.
Such is Seve's position in the game leading players will not come out and publicly criticise him, but some of those under his charge at Valderrama were privately scathing about his captaincy, his insistence on playing, and the disdain with which he treated them. Among the Spaniards, in particular, there has been a growing animosity towards the man they once revered, but players from other continental countries may find reasons not to be available for selection when this year's match is played at the Wynyard Golf Club in Durham in the north of England. Ballesteros, being Ballesteros, will pick himself for at least two matches, and as one continental player pointed out, "What's the point of playing, of taking it seriously, when we're two points down before we even start?"
Making the quandary of the players, and ultimately the European Tour, even more difficult is the fact it is Seve's own promotional company, Amen Corner, which is promoter of the event and responsible for finding the 2m prize money. The eligibility rules state the opposing captains will participate.
Somehow, one suspects, Ballesteros will have to be persuaded to change that rule. Otherwise, the non-participation of some of the continental players could lead to copycat withdrawals on the Great Britain and Ireland side.
The irony, of course, is the paying public will flock to watch Seve, even if some of his fellow pros don't want him to play. Whether winning three Open Championships, two Masters titles or a car crash waiting to happen, Seve, for a certain generation, will always be the man.