Despite early signs of fallibility in the final round, the 35-year-old Open champion shot 65 to finish well clear of Robert Karlsson, of Sweden, and Mark James. In his last seven tournaments Faldo's record is: 1, 3, 3, 1, 1, 2, 1. He was already the world No 1 and the outright leader of the European Order of Merit. His latest triumph merely emphasised the point.
Faldo won another pounds 100,000, taking his career earnings in Europe to pounds 2,809,906, in the universe past the pounds 4m mark. This was his third successive win in Europe, following the Open Championship at Muirfield and the Scandinavian Masters. He was runner-up in the US PGA Championship at St Louis, after which he took three weeks off prior to playing here.
In 72 holes he was over par on two of them. In 74 rounds this season he is 168 under par and is raking in, give or take a penny, pounds 150 a shot. 'It's a difficult game,' he said yesterday. 'Leave it for five minutes and it's tough to get back. There is still so much to learn. There are still goals to strive for, shots to manufacture. I'm enjoying my golf at the moment. To win 10 per cent of the tournaments you play in is phenomenal.' Faldo's strike rate is about 33 per cent. 'It's all down to good old hard work,' he said.
He paid tribute to Karlsson, who was fifth in the Open at Muirfield, and who, for the most part, stuck to Faldo, his playing partner, in the last round yesterday. 'He's a hell of a player,' Faldo said. 'He's got a good future. He certainly wasn't too worried about me.'
Faldo, who prior to this week had never exchanged a word with Karlsson, gave the young Swede every encouragement from the word go. Faldo hooked his drive, hooked his second, played a poor chip and had the gall to get down from around 30 feet for a birdie four. This was matched, in more conventional means, by Karlsson, who should then have gone ahead at the second. Faldo pulled his tee-shot and despite the fact that he never hit the fairway, he secured his par. He missed the green with his pitch at the next, again saved par and Karlsson belatedly drew level at the fourth with a two to a three.
If it was cat and mouse, it was not quite as entertaining as Tom and Jerry for even when Karlsson went ahead at the sixth with his third birdie of the day, nobody was betting against Faldo getting the cream. At the seventh, the Englishman put his approach to less than a foot from the flag and Karlsson missed from six feet.
'That got me going,' Faldo said. 'That got my tension factor up.' At the ninth (similar in length to The Belfry's famous 10th but without the water hazard), Faldo landed in a greenside bunker, came out to three feet and the result was another birdie three. He and Karlsson went to the turn in 32.
James, who began the day four strokes behind Faldo, had a run at it with four birdies to the turn, which he reached in 31. When he got to 15 under par for the championship going to the 16th he was in the thick of it, but then he was beaten back on two fronts. Faldo birdied the 14th and James held up his hands on the 17th. He had a chance for another birdie, putted it two and a half feet past the hole and missed the return.
James's bogey five at the penultimate hole dropped him back to 14 under and he finished a stroke behind Karlsson and four behind Faldo who, for good measure, rolled one in from more than 20 feet at the 17th for his fifth birdie of the day. Faldo's 65 gave him an aggregate of 262, 18 under. Not quite peerless because Ian Woosnam, an absentee this week, once won on 20 under par on this course. That was four years ago. Faldo is not counting. He's looking to the future. More immediately this morning's newspapers. 'With Nigel Mansell retiring, you're going to have to write something sensational about me,' Faldo said.
GA EUROPEAN OPEN (Sunningdale) Leading final scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 262 N Faldo 67 66 64 65. 265 R Karlsson (Swe) 64 67 67 67. 266 M James 64 68 69 65. 271 J M Olazabal (Sp) 70 67 69 65; B Lane 66 68 69 68. 272 S Richardson 68 71 66 67. 273 J Rivero (Sp) 68 69 69 67; M Lanner (Swe) 65 68 71 69. 274 R Davis (Aus) 70 69 68 67; F Nobilo (NZ) 64 72 70 68; I Palmer (SA) 63 74 69 68; P Walton 66 71 69 68; J Spence 69 67 67 71. 275 R Claydon 67 71 71 66; S Luna (Sp) 67 69 71 68; P Broadhurst 71 66 69 69; G Day (US) 71 69 66 69. 276 M Mackenzie 70 70 70 66; A Lyle 71 70 68 67; M Sunesson (Swe) 70 72 67 67; D Gilford 68 70 69 69; K Trimble (Aus) 72 70 65 69; M Farry (Fr) 71 65 69 71. 277 D J Russell 73 68 69 67; J Quiros (Sp) 70 70 68 69; J Payne 68 73 66 70.
VOLVO EUROPEAN TOUR ORDER OF MERIT: 1 N Faldo pounds 565,319.60; 2 A Forsbrand (Swe) pounds 364,806.39; 3 J-M Olazabal (Sp) 324,826.77; 4 C Montgomerie pounds 280,217.86; 5 T Johnstone (Zim) pounds 277,887.06; 6 B Langer (Ger) pounds 265,747.66; 7 V Singh (Fiji) pounds 250,781.57; 8 J Spence pounds 247,425.68; 9 J Rivero (Sp) pounds 229,731.24; 10 G Brand Jnr pounds 205,199.32.
EUROPEAN RYDER CUP POINTS: 1 J Spence 105,139.15pts; 2 N Faldo 100,000; 3 R Karlsson (Swe) 66,660; 4 A Forsbrand (Swe) 62,535.21; 5 M James 45,503.66; 6 C Montgomerie 40,757.61; 7 J Rivero (Sp) 36,669.01; 8 A Lyle 35,319.01; 9 B Lane 33,023.95; 10 M Lanner (Swe) 28,443.67.
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