Golf: Faldo misses World Matchplay cut

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WHEN THE concept of a series of new so-called World Championship events was announced, Nick Faldo was among those to endorse the project enthusiastically. Now that the first one is less than a fortnight away, Faldo finds himself likely to be excluded because of his world ranking.

The top 64, when the new ranking is issued on Monday, will be eligible for the Andersen Consulting World Matchplay at La Costa in California. Until the computers have done their number crunching no one can be sure who will fill the last few places, but a complex situation was taken out of Faldo's hands when he missed the cut at the Desert Classic.

Currently ranked 65th, this was the second time in three outings that the six-times major champion has failed to get past the 36-hole cut-off. After an opening 75 at Dubai Creek, Faldo needed a sub-par effort yesterday to progress. Any hope of that disappeared when he mis-hit a sand wedge shot into the water for a double-bogey six at the seventh (his 16th). A 74 left the 41-year-old at five over and three outside the cut. "Plan B, then," was Faldo's only comment.

That involves playing in the Qatar Masters next week instead of Plan A, which was to head back to Britain on Sunday night and then to America. Though he may not think so, Faldo could still get the call-up. Doubt surrounds Jumbo Ozaki's participation, although Tom Lehman, despite not playing so far this year after shoulder surgery, is expected to appear.

But a number of those poised just behind Faldo are putting on the pressure. Chris Perry was lying second at the Buick Invitational after one round and Greg Turner was third after two rounds at the Australian Masters. Andrew Coltart, who needs to be in the top five to overtake Faldo is only four off the lead here.

David Howell, the young Englishman who won the Australian PGA last November but was out for eight weeks with a sprained ankle after a fall playing tennis on the day he returned home, held a one-stroke advantage after a 68. While Colin Montgomerie lurks on three behind and Mark O'Meara, who went five under for his last five holes, is two back, Howell's closest challengers were Paul McGinley, the joint overnight leader, Wayne Riley and Peter Downie.

A 36-year-old Scot from Longniddry, Downie is as surprised to see his name on the leader board as anyone else. Having spent seven years in the Cayman Islands as director of golf for a hotel chain, Downie became the head pro at Dubai Creek when the club opened six years ago. Though he did not tee off until 11.30, Downie was in his office as usual at 6am.

"I was just checking up on things," Downie said. "People were saying: `What are you doing here?' But you don't stop work just because you shoot a 69." A second three-under-par round yesterday comfortably surpassed his ambition of becoming the first Emirates pro to make the cut in the history of the event. "I am so happy," he said. "Anything now is a bonus. I've never been in this situation so I am just going to enjoy it."

There are now 23 golf pros in the UAE and they have formed their own PGA to run monthly competitions. Downie has won two out of four so far and leads the order of merit with around pounds 500. Now he is guaranteed pounds 2,000. Not bad for someone who describes himself as a "really, really late starter. I never took up golf seriously as a kid."

The scores equalled his lowest competitive round on the course but that was without the severe set-up that has been produced this week. "I could not sleep on Wednesday night," he admitted. "I was worried I would not break 90."

Justin Rose was not quite that bad but he was 17 over after rounds of 78 and 83. "Today was my hardest on a golf course," the 18-year-old, who has now missed 13 cuts in 13 pro events, said. "I didn't know where the ball was going. Holing a three-foot putt became the mission for the day."

The mission for the next week before the Qatar Masters is some serious practice. "My swing is out of sync." He is beginning to sound, ominously, like Faldo. But Ken Rose, his father and coach, was adamant: "Justin will come out of this a better player."