Golf: Cruel cuts as Faldo and Ballesteros fail

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AS A three-ball goes, it was a match made in a place far removed from heaven: Nick Faldo, out of form and out of luck, Colin Montgomerie, once described by David Feherty as having a face like a bulldog licking piss off a nettle, and finally the lugubrious and enigmatic Mark James.

Despite the fact that two of them appeared on the leaderboard after the second round of the Volvo PGA Championship here yesterday a laugh a minute it was not.

Who could have guessed that Faldo, the world No 1 in mind and spirit and money, would play like the world No 248? Faldo, a four times winner of the PGA Championship (he had never missed a cut in this event since 1976) was the odd man out. Certainly odd. We have grown accustomed to Seve Ballesteros missing the cut this year, but to see Faldo in trouble, and in the year of the Ryder Cup, came as something of a shock to the system.

He was one under par after the first round and two over yesterday following a 75. It was too many and he has no further part to play on his home course. He had not missed a cut in a European Tour event since the Spanish Open in 1991; he had not missed one in Britain since the Benson and Hedges in 1985.

The last time Faldo and Ballesteros made a synchronised early exit (a double puncture for the sponsors here) was at the Swiss Open 14 years ago.

'I'm playing badly and putting very badly,' Faldo said. 'It's no fun.' He was downcast; it had all started to go wrong at the third where he had a double bogey six.

When he duffed a shot around the green he thought he heard some people in the crowd tut-tutting. 'Tut tut tut,' Faldo responded. 'I'm doing my best.' In fact the crowd had been silent. What Faldo mistook for criticism was James's caddie sharpening a pencil with a penknife.

At the 15th Faldo had another double bogey six. He was distracted on the tee by the click of a camera and when he finally launched his drive he hooked his ball into a rhododendron bush. He spent a long time wondering whether to hit his ball as it lay or take a penalty drop and he decided on the latter. It took the trio an age to play the hole but they were not warned for slow play. It's only a matter of time.

In the first round Gary Evans, after a pace-setting 66, was fined pounds 250 for slow play. His mildest criticism of the punishment was that it was grossly unfair. 'Would they have put the stop watches on Faldo, Langer or Ballesteros?' Evans asked. He thought it was a personality clash between himself and John Paramor, the chief referee who imposed the fine.

Yesterday morning the Tour's top brass met to discuss Evans's remarks and whether they should take further disciplinary action against him. They decided not to, although it was a close run thing. They came to the conclusion that he did not bring the Tour into disrepute.

Evans, who has a problem with his left wrist which will require surgery, struggled yesterday and lost his ascendancy on the leaderboard to James.

The Lancastrian who lives in Yorkshire had another 68 to stand at eight under par on 136, to lead by one from Ronan Rafferty and Jose Coceres. James began with a bogey and then had five birdies on the trot.

He has already won two tournaments this season and was second a couple of weeks ago in the B and H at St Mellion. In the Johnnie Walker Ryder Cup points table - the process began in September last year - he is fourth with more than pounds 250,000. In the Volvo Order of Merit for this season he is second, to David Gilford, with pounds 177,909. The top two in the Merit table at the conclusion of this championship gain entry to the US Open.

However if, as seems likely, James is one of them, he has already decided not to accept the invitation to play in the second major championship of the season. His place would not go to another European. Instead James, who resigned from the Tour's board of directors this week - no time to attend the meetings - will play in Jersey rather than New Jersey. 'My priority is for Ryder Cup points to the exclusion of all else,' he said.

In the past James has been a member of the chorus that criticised the Americans for not letting more Europeans into the majors. 'I'm not slighting anyone,' he insisted. 'I've set my schedule and I hate messing it up. I don't want to be a gibbering wreck at the Ryder Cup, worn out by transatlantic travel.' Fat chance of that. His only date in America is for the US PGA Championship in August. And that's not definite.

VOLVO PGA CHAMPIONSHIP (Wentworth): Leading second-round scores: (GB or Irl unless stated): 136 M James 68 68. 137 R Rafferty 68 69; J Coceres (Arg) 70 67. 138 J Parnevik (Swe) 70 68; A Oldcorn 70 68; A Murray 69 69. 139 F Nobilo (NZ) 72 67; C Montgomerie 70 69; P O'Malley (Aus) 68 71; B Langer (Ger) 70 69; G Day (US) 72 67; J Haeggman (Swe) 70 69. 140 G J Brand 73 67; T Johnstone (Zim) 74 66; G Brand Jnr 69 71; M Sunesson (Swe) 67 73; A Sherborne 68 72; M Mouland 72 68. 141 S Tinning (Den) 69 72; D Smyth 70 71; P Baker 69 72; R Claydon 73 68; W Riley (Aus) 70 71. 142 H Clark 69 73; P Senior (Aus) 73 69; G Turner (NZ) 73 69; E Els (SA) 71 71; G Cali (It) 72 70; J Payne 72 70; M Lanner (Swe) 71 71; C Mason 71 71; R Goosen (SA) 73 69; J Townsend (US) 70 72; J Berendt (Arg) 72 70; E Romero (Arg) 71 71; J Van de Velde (Fr) 71 71. Did not qualify (selected): 146 N Faldo 71 75. 149 S Ballesteros (Sp) 78 71.

(Photograph omitted)