Golf: Faldo fights to disprove `paralysis by analysis'

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The Independent Online
ONCE THE world No1, the summit of Nick Faldo's ambition is now just to play against the present holder of the title, Tiger Woods. Entry and seedings for the Andersen Consulting World Matchplay Championship in San Diego at the end of the month - 64 players with $1m (pounds 610,000) for the winner - will be taken directly from the world rankings after this week's tournaments.

Faldo is currently lying 65th and needs a strong showing at the Desert Classic at the Dubai Creek club to ensure his place at La Costa. What with the vagaries of the ranking system and depending on what happens in the week's other tournaments in Australia, South Africa and California, Faldo could be safe with a top-30 finish but probably needs to be in the top 15.

All that is known for certain is that with David Duval having withdrawn from the Buick Invitational in the States, Woods cannot be overtaken as No1 seed. However, the participation of Japan's Jumbo Ozaki is in doubt while Tom Lehman has not yet played this season after a shoulder operation.

Players have until a week on Monday to register, at which point the entry list may go down to 66th on the rankings. Per-Ulrik Johansson, Robert Karlsson and Scotland's Andrew Coltart are the others in Dubai dreaming of California.

Not insignificantly, though, this event has the strongest field on the European Tour so far this season, with Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Jose Maria Olazabal and Ian Woosnam, plus Mark O'Meara, the Open and Masters champion.

"I am not just aiming for the top 30," Faldo said. "To get up there, that's the goal. I've got to go out and play well, as simple as that." This is something the six-times major winner has not experienced lately, apart from a fourth-place finish at the Australian Open in December. His opening two events of the year in South Africa produced a missed cut and 43rd place.

At one of those tournaments Mark McNulty described some of Faldo's shots as those of a "24-handicapper" while last week the Englishman also suffered an extraordinary outburst from Gary Player.

"Nick was one of the greatest players in the world but the guy can't play at all now," Player said. "When he makes a cut, I am astonished."

The South African coupled Faldo with the former Open champion Ian Baker- Finch as two who had suffered from over-coaching and "paralysis by analysis".

"I don't believe Gary said that because he is one of my biggest fans," Faldo responded. In ignoring the message, however, he took aim at the messenger, claiming it was all the work of an unnamed journalist to whom he had refused to speak on a recent trip to Australia. In fact, Player's remarks were made at a formal press conference and reported widely.

Whether in denial or not, in finding himself up the proverbial creek without much of a game to bail himself out, Faldo has resorted to what he knows best: refining his paddling technique.

"I'm working on it," Faldo said of his game. "Everything's coming back and it's getting better and I feel it is going to happen. I've just got to be patient and work it all in, simple as that. I was a bit rusty in South Africa and everything wasn't quite in sync. We worked on my balance a lot. If your swing's out of balance you simply can't have great tempo. That's the keyword we've had recently and it has helped a lot."

The keywords that still drive Faldo on, however, are "Ryder" and "Cup". The importance of qualifying for the World Matchplay event is that the number of Ryder Cup points on offer will be the same as at the Open Championship. Considerably fewer will be available if Plan A does not work out and he has to play in nearby Qatar next week instead.

An unwitting by-product of Faldo's desire to fulfil his tour commitments in the United States as well as chasing Ryder Cup points in Europe is that he will come into line with his critics' thoughts that he should play competitively more often.

"You are talking a minimum of 27 events, so that's at least five more than I've been playing for the last couple of seasons," he said. "The Ryder Cup is a great event and I want to make sure I'm there."