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Golf: Faldo folds to increase Ryder fears

NICK FALDO had already packed his bags and admitted yet another defeat when lightning halted the Peugeot Spanish Open in mid-afternoon in Barcelona yesterday.

A dismal second-round 76 - one of the worst scores of the day on an El Prat course yielding birdies and eagles galore - resigned Faldo to a sixth missed cut in 10 starts this season. There were no excuses from the former world No 1, whose slump has taken him down to 99th in the current rankings and put him in danger of missing out on the Ryder Cup for the first time in his 23-year professional career.

"It's me," sighed Faldo after coming in on the two-over-par mark of 146 and looking up to see the Scotsman Paul Lawrie and Sweden's Jarmo Sandelin sharing the lead 14 strokes ahead of him. "I played badly and putted badly. Do you need to know any more? I've a bit of work to do - I've got to get the stroke right."

Two early three-putts undid the good of an opening 70, but putting could not be blamed for the two double-bogeys that followed. First he hit a drive under one tree; then he lost a ball in another.

Faldo plays next at the Benson and Hedges International at The Oxfordshire in three weeks, by which time he will have gone more than 26 months since his last solo success. His last European victory was five years ago.

His 1999 tale of woe began with missed cuts in South Africa and Dubai, a first-round drubbing from Tiger Woods at the Andersen Consulting world matchplay championship in California, then two more missed cuts in Florida. The 41-year-old actually led the Players' Championship after nine holes last month but shot a third-round 83 and was disqualified in the final round after losing another ball in a tree and taking a wrong penalty drop underneath it.

Worse was to come, though. He began the Masters with an 80 two weeks ago and missed the cut for the third successive year. Now this, a day on which playing partner Seve Ballesteros outscored him by seven.

Ballesteros has gone five years without a win anywhere, is outside the world's top 450 and had missed his first six halfway cuts this season. But his 69, containing four birdies and a 15-foot eagle putt, lifted him to two under, and he had to wait to see if that was good enough to give him his first weekend work for nearly six months.

Meanwhile, Lawrie and Sandelin both repeated their opening rounds of 66 and on 12 under led Kent's Jamie Spence by one with half the field still to finish following the one-hour hold-up. The Masters champion, Jose Maria Olazabal, and highly rated Spanish youngster Sergio Garcia were among them. With seven to play, Olazabal was one under and battling to stay alive, while with six to go Garcia, in his debut as a professional, was still five under. He had three more birdies but also a triple-bogey seven on the eighth after losing a ball in a tree like Faldo.

Lawrie, the 30-year-old from Aberdeen, has already won the Qatar Masters this season, and the pounds 100,000 first prize on Sunday could take him sixth in the Ryder Cup table. He had no fewer than nine birdies, the best of them when he came within four inches of a hole-in-one at the 180-yard 17th. "I think this course suits me," he said. "There are a lot of shots of 120 yards and in, and that's the strongest part of my game."

Big-hitting Sandelin is currently 13th in the cup race - five places ahead of Lawrie - and his 66 began with four straight birdies while Spence, seeking his first victory since a closing 60 gave him the 1992 European Masters, led by one with three to play, but in a strengthening wind bogeyed the 16th and 18th.

SPANISH OPEN Early second round leaders: 132 J Sandelin (Swe) 66 66, P Lawrie 66 66; 133 J Spence 65 68; 135 P McGinley 67 68; 136 P Eales 69 67, A Salto (Sp) 73 63, E Canonica (It) 72 64, M Jonzon (Swe) 67 69, G Evans 72 64; 137 M Roe 73 64; 138 V Phillips 69 69, R Winchester 71 67, D Borrego (Sp) 68 70, S Luna (Sp) 71 67, T Levet (Fr) 69 69, P O'Malley (Aus) 71 67, D Smyth 74 64;

139 A Beal 71 68, I Garbutt 72 67, C Rocca (It) 69 70, S Hansen (Den) 71 68, P Price 70 69, P Harrington 71 68; 140 R Karlsson (Swe) 70 70, MA Jimenez (Sp) 72 68, P Fulke (Swe) 70 70, S Kjeldsen (Den) 69 71, W Bennett 70 70. Other selected scores: 142 S Ballesteros (Sp); 144 P Sjoland (Swe), S Torrance; 146 N Faldo.