Faldo in the wild bunch

USPGA Championship: American morale holds high ground as the battle for Ryder Cup points hots up; Peter Corrigan tells how Hollywood can be the scene of a British revival
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The Independent Online
RESPONSIBILITY for rescuing Europe's Ryder Cup hopes from despair falls so heavily on the shoulders of Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam this week that it is fitting they are being asked to perform this dramatic act in Hollywood where the final major championship of the year is being staged at the Riviera Country Club, Los Angeles, golfing home of the stars.

The event concerned, the USPGA, hasn't yielded a British win for 60 years which makes a successful swoop by either or both the sort of scenario that film producers down the road are dropping into their waste bins by the dozen every day. Nevertheless, the pair must be acutely aware that something exceptional will be expected of them if Europe's cause is to be helped.

In its present state of fitness, form and fervour, our Ryder Cup team would be hard-pressed to win a putting match on Bernard Gallacher's back lawn. The thought that in six weeks they'll be teeing up against a buoyant United States team in the unfriendly environs of upstate New York is one that has brought a crestfallen note even from Faldo's proud lips.

Faldo's gloom and his admission last week that the Europeans are the definite underdogs, however, could have been a signal to stand back and watch while he does something about it. Since his failure thus far to qualify for the team is not the least of captain Gallacher's problems, it would be a timely show of belligerence.

Similarly, Woosnam's famed pugnacity will be of greater advantage once it is directed more towards the opposition than towards the supposed iniquity of the present system of selection under which he and Faldo are, at the moment, excluded. The team of 12 consists of the top 10 in the Ryder Cup points table at the end of August plus two wild-card choices made by the captain. Previously, the European captain had three wild cards but it has been altered to bring the system in line with the Americans'.

Woosnam criticised Gallacher last week for allowing himself to be bullied into falling into line. Whatever Gallacher's reasons for the change, he wasn't helped by Faldo's subsequent decision to play on the American Tour this year, thereby missing most of the qualifying tournaments in Europe. However many wild cards a captain has, their benefit as a selection tool is wiped out if they have to be used to bail out the top players who have failed to collect enough points.

Faldo's hope that he could make up for his absence by picking up the necessary points in the majors has so far stranded him at 16th. The USPGA thus represents his final chance of making the team automatically. Occupying 11th place, Woosnam is better placed and may well further his claims in Malmo today but he'll be seeking the consolidation that a top-three finish at the Riviera would bring.

At least Woosnam's attitude towards having to earn selection has mellowed. Last Monday, after playing the inaugural round at the Celtic Manor complex in Gwent, he was still adamant that if he hadn't qualified after the USPGA that would be the end of his attempt. Despite there being two further qualifying events in Europe before the deadline at the end of August, he felt he had done enough and it was up to Gallacher to give him a wild card spot. Given Woosnam's excellent record in the Ryder Cup, Gallacher would find it difficult not to do so.

Happily, by the time the Welshman reached Sweden he had changed his mind and, if he needs more points, he will play in the German Open which is the final event. That journey will not be necessary if his putting catches up with the rest of his game this week. He believes he is playing as well from tee to green as anyone but the magic thereupon stops. If that failing can be put right on the wicked slopes of the Riviera's putting surfaces - and Woosnam's best spells with the putter have tended to strike suddenly - he could be a serious contender.

It is unfortunate that the fate of this USPGA tournament is to be overshadowed by Ryder Cup considerations because it deserves respect in its own right. The least glamorous of the four majors, it has nevertheless produced quality climaxes and redoubtable champions, none more spectacular than John Daly whose victory in 1991 at Crooked Stick began an adventure yet to be completed.

In the three years since, Nick Price has won twice and in between was the exciting play-off in which Paul Azinger overcame Greg Norman. To this reputation is added the lush Californian setting where Ben Hogan once reigned and around which film stars like WC Fields, Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable once played and to which OJ Simpson will return, if he gets off. The scene at the Riviera has enough drama without it doubling up as final qualifying event for the American team. Not the least significant of those trying to make up late ground is Daly whose chances of getting a wild card from captain Tom Watson would not have been enhanced by his latest haircut.

In addition to influencing the final composition of the teams, the Riviera action will also count in the pre-Ryder morale battle in which the Americans are way ahead. As firm a claim as one can make for Faldo, who has not finished lower than fourth in the last three USPGAs, Woosnam, Bernhard Langer and Colin Montgomerie, who when he plays outside Scotland is much less inclined to trip over his kilt, there is no doubting the favourite.

Corey Pavin, who was second to Price last year, won his first major in style when he overcame Shinnecock Hills in June and was well in the hunt at St Andrews. To this form he adds the fact that he was born only 60 miles away and has won the LA Open at Riviera for the past two years. In his last 144 holes at the course, he is 29 under par.

With the Americans enjoying their best year for some time - if this turns out to be a home win it'll be the first American clean sweep of majors since 1982 - we are asking much of Faldo, Woosnam and the rest of the European contingent. They will be acutely aware that what they are playing for is way beyond their normal call of duty.

Card of the course

Hole Par Yards

1 5 501

2 4 460

3 4 434

4 3 238

5 4 426

6 3 170

7 4 406

8 4 368

9 4 418

Out 35 3,421

Hole Par Yards

10 4 321

11 5 561

12 4 413

13 4 420

14 3 180

15 4 447

16 3 168

17 5 578

18 4 447

In 36 3,535

Total 71 6,956

Ryder Cup standings

Europe Points

1 Bernhard Langer 566,481

2 Sam Torrance 454,670

3 Seve Ballesteros 449,272

4 Costantino Rocca 444,903

5 Colin Montgomerie 439,890

6 David Gilford 259,999

7 Per-Ulrik Johansson 250,504

8 Mark James 246,930

9 Philip Walton 242,052

10 Jose Maria Olazabal 238,768

11 Ian Woosnam 215,895

12 Miguel Angel Jimenez 205,020

13 Jose Rivero 202,708

14 Darren Clarke 193,150

15 Barry Lane 192,175

16 Nick Faldo 192,124

17 Howard Clark 181,188

18 Pierre Fulke 166,666

19 Jarmo Sandelin 152,641

20 Paul Broadhurst 149,251

United States Points

1 Corey Pavin 1,054

2 Tom Lehman 812

3 Davis Love III 770

4 Phil Mickelson 639

5 Jay Haas 605

6 Loren Roberts 601

7 Ben Crenshaw 598

8 Peter Jacobsen 590

9 Mark Calcavecchia 529

10 Kenny Perry 526

11 Jim Gallagher Jnr 522

12 Jeff Maggert 461

13 Scott Hoch 452

14= Brad Faxon 422

Lee Janzen 422

16 John Daly 417

17 Bill Glasson 416

18 Scott Simpson 412

19 Mark McCumber 409

20 Fuzzy Zoeller 395

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