Frustrated Faldo fades

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The Independent Online
Nick Faldo, at level par, set off in his third round of the 78th USPGA Championship wondering exactly how far behind the virtual lead he stood. Of course, the scoreboard said he was 10 shots adrift of Phil Mickelson.

But would the highly talented, but erratic southpaw stick or bust? Taking another look at the leaderboard, Faldo found himself only seven behind Justin Leonard, a young man riding the crest of a wave following his maiden tour win a week ago. Only at six under par did the leaderboard start to get bunched, with Vijay Singh, Mark Brooks and Kenny Perry clustered together.

None of the leading five players after the second round had won a major championship. Those who know what it is like to survive the weekend at a major and be left carrying off the silverware started with Nick Price at five under, with Greg Norman, Ian Woosnam and Tom Watson four in front of Faldo.

A starting time of 9.44 for the Masters champion gave him the opportunity of getting into contention and then sitting back and seeing how the leaders coped with the crusty greens of the late afternoon. That was the theory. Faldo needed to be positive and get off to a good start. But then, he had been positive and could not have got off to a worse start in his second- round 75, which undid all the good work of his opening 69. On Friday, Faldo did not hit a green in regulation until the sixth, by which time three bogeys had done their damage.

A splendid fairway wood to 20 feet pin-high at the second yesterday promised much and, if the putt missed on the left side and ran three feet past, at least it showed an aggressiveness which was lacking the day before. Too often Faldo has succumbed to one of golf's greatest frustrations, to hit a putt on line but leave it short.

This early birdie was nullified at the fourth, where he yanked his approach into some long, tangly stuff and, though he hacked out to 15 feet, the putt again slipped by. At the next, his 50-footer was hardly a birdie chance but, as it radared in on the target, Faldo accepted the present by feigning a tug of his non-existent cap.

The short eighth, though, was his undoing. He pushed his tee shot at the 165-yard par-three into a lateral water hazard, and put his next into a hollow at the back of the green. He did the difficult bit by lagging his first putt to four feet, then missed the next, costing a triple-bogey six. Driving into the rough at the ninth meant another bogey and a front nine of 39. What hope there was now seemed to have gone and his round went further into the positive numbers as he bogeyed the par-five 10th hole to leave him at four over for the championship and now 14 behind Mickelson.

Up ahead, Per-Ulrik Johansson, perhaps inspired by fellow Swede Jesper Parnevik's 67 on Friday, showed what a perfect morning it was at Valhalla for scoring by going to the turn in 31. In contrast, Bernhard Langer, a man once again at war with his putting, took 10 shots more for the front nine. Only a birdie at the 18th, a hole proving to be the easiest on the course bar the second, allowed the German to qualify for the weekend. That nine of the 13 Europeans in the field did so, including Alex Cejka, Howard Clark, Costantino Rocca and Miguel Jimenez, was a good showing for those on a one-week excursion. But it was another short week for Colin Montgomerie, who has had a long plane flight to consider his second successive missed cut in a major.

It can be no consolation that he has to wait eight months for the next one, and the Masters is the one least suited to his game. Montgomerie says that the problems go "through the bag". It is possible that the Scot, Europe's leading money winner for the last three years, is suffering his first major loss of confidence in a career that has only ever seen improvement. Montgomerie has always been one to put pressure on himself, but there is a fine line between being inspired and repressed by that pressure. Mickelson, who has cured the putting problems which led him to have poor finishes at both the US and British Opens, was articulate on the subject.

"I think Jack Nicklaus, when he started his career, knew that players are judged by how many majors they win," Mickelson said, "and I think I've realised that it is not a good attitude to say, 'Oh, there is always next year,' or 'There'll be another opportunity'. A player only has so many years, and each year there are only four majors. So it is very important that a player gives all his efforts, gives everything he has, for each one of those majors. There is as much desire to win this one tournament primarily because it is the last major of the year. It is the last opportunity to turn a good year into a great one."

Early third-round scores: 218 B Crenshaw 74 71 73. 220 C Parry (Aus) 72 73 75. 224 J Reeves 74 71 79.