Golf: Faldo finishes with a flourish

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The Independent Online
SIXTY-SIX years ago Bobby Jones shot 66 around Sunningdale, a score which, at the time, was considered to be a nigh on perfect demonstration of golf. Jones, the eternal amateur, did not have the benefit of state-of- the-art weaponry, in terms of both clubs and balls. Six years ago Nick Faldo, the ultimate professional, set a course record here of 62, and although he did not come near that yesterday in the first round of the GA European Open, his play was virtually none the less accident free.

'It's nice to get back to work,' Faldo said, resuming the season after a break of three weeks. 'I like to think I can go straight out there and get on with it,' Faldo said on Wednesday. It seems he can. He scored 67, three under par, covering the back nine in 31. The sting was in the tail with birdies at the last three holes.

The Open champion said he hit only two bad shots in his round. 'I hit a lot of nice shots,' he said, 'but nothing great. I was just waiting for something to happen.' He went to the turn in 36; eight pars and a bogey-five at the seventh, where he drove into trees on the right. He had his first birdie of the day at the 11th, where he chipped to 18 feet and the putt dropped.

That put him back to level par. At the 16th, Faldo played what he considered to be his second poor shot, a pushed nine-iron which missed the green and finished 40 feet or more from the flag. 'That,' he said, with only a slight note of irritation, 'was a bad swing.' Bad swing but a roundabout result. He chipped in for a birdie-three. At the 17th he hit an eight-iron approach to 12 feet and holed that, and then forced the corporate hospitality guests around the 18th green (at least some businesses still have liquid assets) to put down their mobile phones. Faldo stroked a wedge to within seven feet of the hole and made the putt for his third successive three.

It was no coincidence that the lowest scores were established early in the day when the dew, and the coffee, was still fresh and the leaves on the trees were stationary. Ian Palmer, who went out at 7.10am, came back with a 63, seven under par, the best score of the day. 'There was no wind when we started,' he said. 'It was just dark.'

In the dark and distant past, ie, last January, Palmer won the Johnnie Walker Asian Classic in Bangkok, the first tournament of the European Tour. The South African, a graduate of the qualifying school, won more than pounds 80,000 in one fell scoop which is just as well. The money has supported him through 30 weeks of anonymity and a series of missed cuts.

'It's been a bit of a struggle with all the courses being new to me,' Palmer said. 'I'll be more selective next year and then I can pace myself. If you're a top player it's even harder to hit a slump.' Unfortunately for Palmer, the Asian Classic does not return to Bangkok next year but will be played in Singapore. The European Open has also found new pastures. In the past it has alternated between Sunningdale and Walton Heath, but it will no longer be played at either club.

Palmer had seven birdies and, although he found five bunkers in the course of his round, he did not record a single bogey. He leads by one stroke from the Swede, Robert Karlsson, the New Zealander, Frank Nobilo, and the Englishman, Mark James. Asked to describe the year, James replied: 'It was good up to July and then bad weather ruined the flowers and the vegetables.' Given the choice James, who exercises green fingers on his one-acre garden in a village near Leeds, would rather talk to the flowers than to the press.

GA EUROPEAN OPEN (Sunningdale) Leading first-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 63 I Palmer (SA). 64 R Karlsson (Swe), M James, F Nobilo (NZ). 65 M Lanner (Swe). 66 P Walton, J Hawkes (SA), P Way, B Lane, P O'Malley (Aus). 67 R Winchester, S Luna (Sp), R Claydon, N Faldo, B Malley (US), P Carman. 68 D Gilford, S Richardson, C Mason, J Rivero (Sp), M Pinero (Sp), M Moreno (Sp), R Lee, C Montgomerie, J Payne, J Parnevik (Swe), H P Thuel (Ger). 69 D R Jones, P Curry, J Bland (SA), T Johnstone (Zim), C Moody, M Clayton (Aus), A Binaghi (It), W Riley (Aus), P Senior (Aus), J Spence. 70 R Chapman, M Mackenzie, J Van de Velde (Fr), P Baker, S Ballesteros (Sp), M Roe, R Davis (Aus), R Willison, S Field, D Cooper, T Charnley, J Quiros (Sp), E Romero (Arg), J-M Olazabal (Sp), M Poxon, D Williams, R Hartmann (US), B Gallacher, J Heggarty, J Sewell, M Sunesson (Swe). Selected: 71 H Clark, S Lyle, P Broadhurst, R Rafferty, G Brand Jnr. 72 A Forsbrand (Swe), E Darcy, D Feherty. 73 T Jacklin, G J Brand. 74 C O'Connor Jnr. 75 S Torrance.

(Photograph omitted)

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