Golf: Ball in a palm tree gums up Faldo

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The Independent Online
A WEEK that started so promisingly for Nick Faldo again ended prematurely. Despite making the cut for only the second time this season, Faldo failed to complete 72 holes when he was disqualified from the Players Championship during the final round for failing to identify his ball when it got stuck up a palm tree.

Nothing much went right for the Englishman once he had played the front nine in 32 to tie briefly for the lead on Thursday. Having given himself the opportunity of playing all four rounds in Sawgrass at a time when the Stadium Course was providing the severest of tests for those at the top of their games, Faldo's was still sufficiently off not to be able to cope. An 83 on Saturday tied his worst score on the US tour.

"I wish there was no tomorrow," he said after his third round. "I wish I could just have the day off." Having bogeyed three of the first four holes to drop to 16 over for the tournament, Faldo saw his second shot at the sixth hole lodge high in a palm tree. Crucially, however, the ball could not be seen from the ground. As he was walking back to replay the shot, which was the correct procedure, Corey Pavin, his playing partner, told Faldo he could drop under the tree.

Pavin said he had experienced a similar situation nine years ago in Palm Springs, so Faldo then completed the hole following the American's advice. The error could have been corrected, under penalty, before Faldo teed off at the seventh but it was only at the seventh green that rules official Jon Brendle, who had heard of the incident from a spectator, caught up with the group.

Immediate disqualification followed under rule 20-7. "Corey talked Nick into a bad ruling," said Brendle. "We both saw the ball go into the tree," Faldo explained. "I thought it was a lost ball as we couldn't see it, but Corey talked me out of going back [to replay the shot]."

"I guess the ruling I got in Palm Springs was wrong," Pavin, the 1995 US Open champion, said. "Now I have found out the correct ruling I feel bad it happened, but the bottom line is that the proper thing to do was call for an official."

Pavin added: "He wasn't playing well, I wasn't playing well, I'm not sure he was too upset. I was probably more stressed about it than he was." Faldo shook hands with Pavin and made a joke of the incident before he returned to the clubhouse and departed for his Florida base in Orlando.

Though not the first time Faldo has suffered the ignominy of being told to leave the course, his extensive knowledge of the rules has made such incidents rare in a long career. "It all adds to the frivolity," he said. This week's BellSouth Classic in Atlanta will be Faldo's last chance to find some consistent form before the US Masters at Augusta.

While Faldo was credited with 79th and last place, earning $9,100, which does not count on the US money list, Colin Montgomerie went into the final round in fourth place, three strokes behind David Duval, who was one in front of Phil Mickelson and Skip Kendall. Duval at one point held a five- stroke advantage, before succumbing to the demanding conditions, in which the average score was over 76.

Duval, who had a 74, said: "We got kicked around today. If you had to do this every week, a whole lot of people would not play golf."

Montgomerie recovered from a front nine 39 for a 73. He knew it was going to be a long day when he walked onto the first green and "could almost see my reflection in the green." It was there that Mickelson hit a putt that rebounded back towards him off a spike mark.

"Then at the par-five 11th, the left-handed American was forced to aim for the greenside bunker with his approach. "I'm not complaining," he said. "But think about it. When was the last time you had a five-iron in your hands and weren't trying to hit the green?"

"I guess this definitely needs to be a major, because you had three of them in one day," said Mark O'Meara of the combination of US Open rough, US Masters greens and Open wind. Lee Westwood also hung on bravely to be one over.