Golf: Faldo commits himself to American tour: Ballesteros in the swing in Lancome Trophy

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The Independent Online
NICK FALDO, still smarting from the counter-attack launched on him by European Tour colleagues last week, yesterday committed himself fully to the US Tour. Next season Faldo will play a minimum of 17 tournaments in America, about twice as many as he has played in Europe this year.

Short of taking out American citizenship, Faldo's departure could hardly be more complete. He will rent a house in Lake Nona, Florida, where his coach David Leadbetter is based.

'I'm not buying a place because of tax reasons,' Faldo said. Asked how many events he will play in Europe next year he replied: 'I don't know.' His children will visit him in Florida during school holidays.

Faldo, who shot a two-under-par 68 in the first round of the Lancome Trophy here, three strokes behind the joint leaders Seve Ballesteros and Vijay Singh, announced during the British Masters at Woburn last week that he was considering crossing the Atlantic. He claimed the European Tour was played on only a handful of true championship courses and that it had not kept pace with the progress made in America.

If Faldo was in two minds about applying for his US Tour card, the reaction to his comments probably convinced him that he should head West. Yesterday, in a reference to Woburn, he said: 'I was treated so disgustingly last week.'

Whether this related to the press coverage, or the criticisms of Mark James and Mark Roe, is not clear. Both players broadened the debate and attacked the subject of appearance money. 'A lot of the top players are dominated by money to a ridiculous degree,' James said. He added that Faldo does not play enough to get an 'overall picture' of the venues.

On Sunday morning, as James was preparing to go to the first tee, Faldo raised the subject with his Ryder Cup colleague. 'He was very angry,' James said. 'He wanted me to retract. I didn't know what he was talking about. He had nothing new to say. He made no impression on me. I feel that I'm in touch with the players and they were fed up with remarks that were belittling us and the tour.'

In the past week James has been congratulated by many of the players and also spectators. 'The response has been very positive,' he said.

Yesterday Faldo, who has won one tournament this year, admitted that he had got his schedule wrong. 'Once I get warmed up I stay warm,' he said. 'I've been going out cold all the time. There was no continuity. If you're putting great you can cope. If not you're struggling.'

Faldo had one sympathetic listener in Ballesteros. 'I would like to see him play a little more in Europe to benefit the Tour,' the Spaniard said, 'but I totally understand Nick's position.'

Ballesteros, meanwhile, was in his element here and his 65 contained a couple of vintage shots. From an awkward stance in a bunker at the 17th he put the ball to a foot from the flag and from a similar situation at the 18th he holed his bunker shot for a birdie, his fifth of the round. 'Last year I was going downstairs,' he said. 'Now I'm going upstairs. I'm getting excited again.'

He had several reasons to be cheerful and his score was just one of them. His four- year-old son, Baldomero, was watching him play in a tournament for the first time and, as expected, he was named as the replacement for John Daly in the World Match Play at Wentworth next month. This will not harm ticket sales. When the original field was announced the switchboard at Wentworth was bombarded by calls from people who wanted to know why he was not playing.

It had nothing to do with the club, of course, and the calls should have been directed to the offices of Mark McCormack's International Management Group who run the event. IMG also runs the Lancome Trophy, which brings us back to the subject of appearance money.

Until the withdrawal of Greg Norman, Ballesteros was not one of the players here who would be suitably rewarded for their presence. As a four-times winner he felt he should have been, especially as it is the Lancome's 25th anniversary. Asked if he would have played had Norman not pulled out, Ballesteros replied: 'Probably not. Why are you asking such difficult questions?' The Spaniard may not be an IMG client but they can't keep him out of their playground.

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