'Maybe,' he said, drawing on one of the sponsor's cigarettes, 'life begins at 40.' Mason reaches the landmark in three weeks but he has never played as impressively as now. He goes into the final round of the Dunhill British Masters over the Duke's course here in joint second place, one stroke off the lead held by the 25-year-old Peter Baker. Yesterday Mason, who has been a runner-up on five occasions, shot 69 to stand at 12 under par. Even so, the bookmakers have him at 14-1. Also at 12 under is Joakim Haeggman of Sweden and Ronan Rafferty of Ireland with Sandy Lyle a stroke further back.
Mason, who has had seven finishes in the top 20 this season, said that his eight-year-old son Andrew, a promising golfer, is partly responsible for his improvement. 'In the winter we went to the driving range a lot. My game feels as if it is under cruise control which is a lovely feeling.' Baker, who defeated Nick Faldo in a play-off to win the Benson and Hedges International in 1988 after which he nearly disappeared without trace, had a 72 yesterday and his three- shot lead was reduced to one.
Officially, appearance money does not exist on the European Tour so they wrap it in ribbon and call it something else. In the Volvo PGA Championship at Wentworth last week the players who expect to be paid for their presence appeared in an abbreviated game called a shoot-out. At Woburn, Faldo and Bernhard Langer, the world No 1 and No 2, justified their substantial advances by giving golf clinics to the public.
In Faldo's case it could have been the other way round. A few gremlins have crept into the great man's game and he is confused and exasperated. After missing the cut at Wentworth he made it here by only two strokes, taking a quadruple-bogey nine at the 18th in the second round. Interviews were out - 'I need to practice,' he said. Yesterday he made no headway, scoring a level-par 72, but he was a lot more civil.
'It was no fun,' he said. 'I'm just looking for a swing. It's frustrating. There's very little wrong but I just seem to be paying for every fraction that I'm out. When I get it right it will be great. You have to go backwards to go forwards. I'm going to fiddle with some bits.'
Faldo was not dealing in fractions when he pushed his drive into the trees at the third hole. He then attempted to get through a gap a yard wide but clattered into a tree and his ball disappeared into a bush. After taking a penalty drop, he hit it into a greenside bunker from where he got up and down for a double-bogey six. Faldo travels to New Jersey next week in preparation for the US Open, which starts at Baltusrol on 17 June. He is taking a new club with him to the US, a 'secret weapon'. He was asked what it was. 'It's ironey and metally,' he replied, helpfully.
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