Golf: Faldo unassailable on last stop of the gravy train

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The Independent Online
THE Volvo Masters, the culmination of the European Tour, represents Eldorado but with a superior supporting cast. The leading money winners in the Order of Merit, all of whom have won more than pounds 100,000, have the opportunity here to earn compound interest.

Golf, which so far has been recession proof, has given the great and the not so great a platform to get rich quick or even quicker. The Volvo Masters, which starts today, offers pounds 660,000 in prize money with the winner receiving pounds 110,000 and the player in 54th and last place pounds 3,080. There is no half-way cut so everybody gets a four-day ticket to ride on the gravy train.

In addition, the sponsors have added a bonus pool of pounds 440,000 which will be divided among the leading 15 players in the Order of Merit at the conclusion of this tournament on Sunday evening. No suspense there. As Nick Faldo, even if he should finish last here, cannot be overtaken in the money list, he is already guaranteed first prize in the bonus pool. That too amounts to pounds 110,000 so should Faldo win the championship, which is a far more realistic prospect, he would receive pounds 220,000.

In the Year of the Faldo, the world No 1, in terms of money that counts towards the Order of Merit, has pounds 591,094 and the next best is Bernhard Langer with pounds 397,777. Overall this season Faldo has won nearly pounds 1m. He could almost triple that before Christmas. After this week he plays in three more events that carry huge prizes, the Grand Slam in California, the dollars 1m Challenge in Sun City and the Johnnie Walker World Championship in Jamaica.

Faldo said he has no particular goals this season other than to keep on winning. 'I'm not trying to say thank you very much and switch off.' Indeed, there are prizes on far more distant horizons. The prospect of playing golf in the Olympic Games in 1996 brought a glint to his eye. The word is that Augusta National, where Faldo has twice won the Masters, will be the venue if golf returns to the Olympics. The Masters is held in April; Olympic golf would be held in Augusta in August when the course is normally closed. Only pit bulls and Englishmen would play the game in such searing heat.

'It wouldn't be a bad choice,' Faldo said. 'I'd love to win a gold medal. Who wouldn't?' But would he play for nothing? Ah. On that one we had better ask his agents, IMG. Then he looked even further ahead. Yesterday Faldo, despite taking a seven at the second, endorsed Valderrama's bid to stage the Ryder Cup in 1997. The course here, the pet project of Jaime Ortiz-Patino, who made billions out of Bolivian tin mines, has consistently been promoted since it hosted the first Volvo Masters five years ago.

In that time only a handful of players (Faldo on two occasions) have finished under par for four rounds. 'I can't think of anything better than this,' Faldo said. 'If they feel that something has got to be done then they do it. I wish we had more like this. If the Ryder Cup was held here our local knowledge would help considerably. For the players nothing could be better but after that politics comes into it.' When not held in America, the biennial Ryder Cup has always been staged on a British course. Next year it is at The Belfry and four years after that it seems certain that Spain will get it. Valderrama is the clear leader in the clubhouse, a clubhouse that has just had a fortune spent on it.

Back at the Volvo Masters, Colin Montgomerie is irritated by the fact that he has won more than pounds 300,000 without winning a tournament. David Feherty is 40 places below him in the money list but the Ulsterman has won, the Madrid Open last week to be precise which got him into Valderrama. There's something else that irritates Montgomerie. 'Every time you see him he's got a face like a warthog that's just been stung by a wasp.' Feherty is the only man on tour capable of such a remark. No prizes for guessing who it was directed at.

----------------------------------------------------------------- CARD OF THE COURSE ----------------------------------------------------------------- Hole Yards Par Hole Yards Par 1st 389 4 10th 389 4 2nd 400 4 11th 547 5 3rd 172 3 12th 219 3 4th 563 5 13th 402 4 5th 381 4 14th 370 4 6th 163 3 15th 225 3 7th 464 4 16th 421 4 8th 350 4 17th 568 5 9th 442 4 18th 455 4 Out: 3,324 35 In: 3,596 36 Total: 6,920 71 -----------------------------------------------------------------