Golf: Duval wins as Palm tree floors 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.

David Duval went on to claim the trophy while nothing much went right for Faldo once he had played the front nine in 32 to tie briefly for the lead on Thursday.

"I wish there was no tomorrow," he said after his third round 83. "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 and 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. I guess I feel a bit more stressed than he does."

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. Indeed, Faldo may have forgotten that he once shinned up a tree Tarzan-like to identify his ball during the US open at Pebble Beach in 1992. "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, Lee Westwood, who was fifth last year on his debut, battled his way up to sixth place with a closing 73. At two over, he was just five strokes behind Duval, who birdied the 17th to clinch a two-stroke win over Scott Gump. Colin Montgomerie, who birdied the second to move within one of the lead, then crashed to a 79, the second Sunday in a row he has finished with a seven over round.

Westwood's upward move was made possible by a level par back nine, in which he came within inches of holing in one at the short 13th. "I played a lot better today," he said. "My course management was not great and I left a lot of shots on the course but my confidence is much better and I feel I am coming back to where I was."

The top-ten finish gave Westwood the chance to play in the BellSouth Classic this week in Atlanta but the 25-year-old was not inclined to alter his plans of a few days in the Bahamas. "I'll play a couple of rounds there and switch off," he said.

Duval has now won three times this season and ten times in the last 18 months, with this the biggest and the best of those victories to date. It came on the same day that his father, Bob, achieved his maiden win on the Seniors tour and should see him elevated above Tiger Woods as the world No 1.