Golf: Contented feeling for Faldo

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The Independent Online
NICK FALDO, bewitched, bothered and bewildered at Baltusrol in the US Open championship two weeks ago, is clearly at home in Ireland. He was so relaxed he had a couple of pints of Guinness on the eve of the final round of the Carrolls Irish Open. 'You don't get ulcers over here,' he said.

Faldo made a civil defence of the Irish Open with a priceless exhibition of nerveless putting on Sunday when he caught and finally beat Jose-Maria Olazabal. It came down to a classic confrontation between the Englishman and the pretentious Spaniard. Twelve months ago in the Open Championship at Muirfield Faldo held a four-stroke lead and won by one shot from the American, John Cook, Olazabal finishing third.

The situation at Mount Juliet on Sunday was reversed. Olazabal, who has not won a tournament this season, led by four strokes from Faldo going into the final round and the world No 1 got to him with a score of 65, a course record over a very American layout designed by Jack Nicklaus. Faldo won by sinking a putt of around 12 feet at the first extra play- off hole, the notoriously difficult 18th, and what was noticeable about it was that he kept his eyes glued to the ground for so long he did not see his ball go into the hole, he heard it.

'It is nice to feel wanted,' Faldo said, referring to the support he received from a crowd estimated at 35,000. The sponsors, who had doubled the entrance fee from pounds 10 to pounds 20, were equally appreciative. There are occasions when Faldo's manner does not make him the flavour of the month. Seve Ballesteros, who made progress of sorts by making the halfway cut at Mount Juliet, said: 'You have waited so long to find a champion and now you have one. Why don't you like him?'

Faldo, after a wretched June - he missed the cut at the Volvo PGA championship at Wentworth - is back on course and his victory here seems to have transformed him. When he won the Irish Open at Killarney last year he went on to win the Open and four other tournaments, including the World Matchplay and the Johnnie Walker World Championship. Faldo is not playing in the Bell's Scottish Open, which starts at Gleneagles tomorrow. More fishing, more practising, more fine tuning.

He won pounds 96,000 on Sunday and moved to the top of the Ryder Cup points table with pounds 392,332 and the Order of Merit with pounds 259,130. It was his third Irish Open victory in a row and he keeps the Waterford Crystal trophy. It has, after all, got his name on it.

'When I won the Irish Open for the first time I wrapped the trophy up, put it in my bag and took it home,' Faldo said. 'Then I had a phone call saying they wanted it back.'

Olazabal, who missed from five feet when his putt at the play-off hole lipped out, won pounds 65,000 and has advanced to eighth in the Ryder Cup table and sixth in the Order of Merit. Olazabal suffered the disconcerting experience of being greeted by the Irish singer-songwriter, Chris de Burgh, on the 18th fairway in the play- off.

Andre Agassi has Barbra Streisand, Olazabal has Chris de Burgh - but at least Streisand did not shake Agassi's hand after he had played his first serve.

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