Golf: Faldo on the slide in Ryder chase

WITH TWO rounds to play before the European Ryder Cup team is finalised, Padraig Harrington has done himself most favours, Bernhard Langer quite a few but Nick Faldo hardly any. Both Harrington and Langer need to finish no worse than third at the BMW International to jump up into the top ten automatic qualifiers and probably better after Robert Karlsson, whose 10th place is the one under attack, made the cut.

Harrington, a three-time Walker Cup player from Dublin, is right on course after adding a second-round 67 to his opening 66. At 11 under he shared the lead with Colin Montgomerie, one ahead of David Park, who followed his 62 on Thursday with a 72.

Two years ago, in a similar position, Harrington was leading the tournament but slipped down the leaderboard to miss out on a team place. "I hope the next two days are a washout, but I can't expect that. I have got to prepare to do battle with Monty. If you can beat him you usually aren't doing too badly," he said.

Langer, no stranger to performing when the pressure is on, pulled himself up from three under overnight to seven under with a 68 despite feeling a touch of flu coming on. The German is tucked behind the leaders, still with every opportunity for a weekend charge to his 11th victory in Germany.

Faldo, however, could not build on his first-round 67 and, worse, fell backwards with a 74. He has no chance of qualifying but was still trying to impress captain Mark James, but the lack of communication from the skipper suggests it was always a forlorn hope. "It's no fun going backwards," Faldo said. Two years ago, when his form had not been scintillating but was a darn sight better than this season, Seve Ballesteros had already given Faldo the nod. "He said I was in but not to tell anyone," Faldo recalled.

"Everything we said then was baloney. This time its true. I am in the dark. Mark has not spoken to me since the B and H [in May]. Is it all going to be about two rounds? If I shoot two 65s over the weekend and don't win, does it mean any more than shooting two 75s?"

But James has made it a policy not to speak to anyone in contention, remembering the misunderstanding between Bernard Gallacher and Jesper Parnevik in 1995. Parnevik changed his schedule despite his wife expecting, but when he did not get in he was not picked.

"I thought it was best to say little to avoid another misunderstanding," James said. "There are probably more than a dozen people in the same position but I haven't said anything to anyone. What I might say could fluctuate every day."

Karlsson finished at three under and as well as Harrington could be overtaken by Andrew Coltart, who is six under. The Scot probably needs to be better than eighth but was not even sure of making the cut until he played the last six holes in four under.

But for the five players who must win to have any chance of qualifying, including England's John Bickerton, who is at eight under, the ominous sight of Montgomerie making his inevitable way towards the top of the leaderboard must have sunk a few hearts. "If I stop other people qualifying I can't help that," Monty said. "I'm here to win this tournament and today was a good start."

He was not happy about his first-round 69 but had been trying out a new set of irons which he promptly ditched for the old reliables. He immediately produced an eight-under 64. Assured of topping the Ryder Cup qualifying, he had sympathy for those chasing a place.

"Anyone who has a goal this week and achieves it, all credit to him," Monty said. "I wouldn't like to be in that position, just as I'd never like to go back to the Qualifying School. It's no fun."

n Laura Davies stepped up her campaign for a third win of the European season with a second-round 69 in the Compaq Open at Osterakers, near Stockholm, yesterday. Sharing the lead with Sweden's Helen Alfredsson after an opening 67, the Briton set an early target of 10- under 136 to lead by six from America's Sherri Steinhauer, the winner of last week's Weetabix British Open at Woburn.