Golf: 122nd Open Championship: Intrusive tradition for Faldo and the fall guy

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The Independent Online
JESPER PARNEVIK and Nick Faldo, always an unlikely combination for a verbal duel, made their peace yesterday when the Swede apologised for remarks he had allegedly made about the defending champion at the 122nd Open Championship.

Parnevik, who had never met Faldo before, made a point of finding him on the Royal St George's course after he opened his newspapers yesterday morning and went white when he read he had described the world No 1 as boring. 'I was misconstrued,' he told him. 'I didn't attack you, I just said that you might enjoy life more if you loosened up a bit. You are what you are because you concentrate so hard.'

Thus ended a ritual that is becoming a pre-tournament tradition almost as set in stone as the number of holes and the size of the field. Every year someone rises from a lesser or greater degree of obscurity and is construed as having made a swipe at the three- times champion. Two Opens ago it was Scott Hoch who took the tabloid baton and ran, last year it was Wayne Riley and this time it is Parnevik.

His walking the type rope arose from a conversation with journalists that had begun on the subject of Swedish golf and strayed on to Parnevik's concern that Faldo's obsessional attitude to his sport was comparable to Bjorn Borg and tennis.

'Nick appears to be a loner,' he allegedly said. 'When Borg quit he realised he missed out on a lot of life and now he is trying to get that back and he can't do that. It would be a shame if Nick finished the same way with a big hole in his life.'

Faldo also had a big hole in his knowledge about this because he has long since learned to avoid newspapers in the build-up to big tournaments. He told Parnevik: 'I go through this every year. I know how they operate, you give them a line and they pounce on it. Don't worry about me, I can handle it.'

Faldo's record in major championships underlines his ability to operate in this atmosphere of mountainous insults being made of molehill comments. He has won this event three times in the last six years and is the only man, Jack Nicklaus apart, to have successfully defended the Masters. Normally the preceding ballyhoo means the one player you can safely discount at an Open is the previous year's winner but Faldo is the exception.

Amplifying on how he maintained his hunger for the game's great prizes, he said: 'Every major is different. The course plays differently, the weather changes. It's not like I've done it once and it'll be the same. It's a wonderful challenge and as long as I have the opportunity and think I'm good enough to win majors, I'll enjoy it. When I don't I'll head for the river.'

Faldo, an enthusiastic angler, is unlikely to be reaching for his rod and line full time for the forseeable future. Indeed it is difficult to imagine him being more relaxed than he was yesterday. Winning the Irish Open 10 days ago confirmed his belief that his form was recovering from a June of one missed cut and several lost opportunities and yesterday he said he was not working on any one aspect of his game, a rarity in the perfectionist's perfectionist.

He also disrupted his schedule to spend time with handicapped children yesterday morning and then allowed two young golfers from Russia and Latvia to accompany him on his practice round over a course he describes as hard and bouncy as he ever experienced at the Open. Indeed he was risking accusations of being too gregarious when he compounded this by offering to aid emerging pros.

'I'm always ready to help younger golfers,' Faldo said. 'If they come to me and ask I'll be happy to spend time with them. I'm playing with Gary Evans tomorrow and I've helped Roger Winchester.' Needless to say not much of this will appear in newsprint.

Faldo is the defending champion but the last man to win an Open at Sandwich was Sandy Lyle eight years ago. Then it was the languid Scot rather than the intense Englishman who looked likely to be the dominant British force in golf yet Lyle has since been eclipsed. Not that it seems to bother him too greatly. On being asked if he was more laid back than in 1985, he replied. 'If I was I'd be asleep.

'Compared to last time I'd say I'm approaching the tournament with more confidence - in 1985 I was walking off courses in disgust a few weeks before the Open, not even completing scorecards. I think I'm more in control of myself, I know what I'm doing. You cannot buy experience.'

Like Faldo, Lyle finds Royal St George's in a parched and bumpy state. 'I hear reports that people are complaining but I like it,' he said. 'I know you can get unlucky bounces but that applies to all links courses. If the greens were hard, too, it would be impossible but they are a lot slower than at the Masters or the US Open.'

Course for heroes and villains, page 33