Golf: Faldo gifted chance to impress

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PITY THE organisers of the Cricket World Cup did not consult the European tour schedule before deciding to start their competition this weekend. For the first time this season, after swanning around first the southern hemisphere and latterly southern Europe, the tour has arrived in Britain.

The Oxfordshire course, designed as if it was situated in Florida, is in fact located near Thame, where the weather is anything but. In the three years the Benson and Hedges International has been played here, snow, hail, torrential rain, thunderstorms and howling gales have all featured.

So when Nick Faldo said he was "back for the summer" in an attempt to secure a record 12th appearance in the Ryder Cup later this year, the remark was accompanied by a look out the window and an ironic shrug of the shoulders.

This was a gesture Lee Westwood was incapable of performing as a mysterious injury forced him out of the tournament. Westwood only lasted nine holes yesterday and while he was able to leave the job of leading his celebrity pro-am team in the capable hands of six-handicapper Ian Botham, pulling out of the main event is a more serious matter.

The 26-year-old could only play one-handed from the rough such is the pain in his right elbow. The problem is more deep-seated, either originating in the shoulder or the back. The worrying part is that the three specialists so far consulted disagree on the diagnosis and Westwood hopes an MRI scan in Sheffield today will make the cause clear.

"Nobody seems to be able to put their finger on what it is and that's what concerns us," said Andrew Chandler, Westwood's manager. "He desperately wanted to play here as it is the start of the British season but it is more important to find out the extent of the problem. His big days are to come with the US Open and the British Open. He has 15 years ahead of him so there is no point making a mess of this week."

Since finishing sixth at the Masters, Westwood has been on his travels and the problem first arose in Macau, although he went on to win the tournament. But in New Orleans last week he had to withdraw after three rounds. "Any time I use my arm to lift anything, it troubles me," he said. "It aches and turns into a shooting pain."

Faldo, the man with more points in the Ryder Cup than anyone else, is currently lying 48th on a list which sees only the top ten qualify automatically. He has missed six cuts and been disqualified once in ten events this season but his old Cup partner, Colin Montgomerie would not go to Boston in September without him.

"A European team without Nick Faldo is a weaker team," Monty said. "Psychologically, he is a very important member of the team. In matchplay he stands one up on the first tee against most people. An 80 per cent Faldo would be on my team."

In actuality, it is Mark James's team and in one of those draws where the words "luck of" do not come into it, James and Faldo will play together for the first two rounds at The Oxfordshire. "Sure, I'd like to impress the captain," Faldo said, "but only because then I'd be playing well and doing well in the tournament. It is still early days. I've got a dozen events left to qualify and I feel I can turns things around."

Having not bothered to shave for the last two days, Faldo could be described as bristling at suggestions he might also be bored with playing and practising. "I have never been bored with a minute of it," Faldo said. "I still want to play. I have still got majors to win."