Golf: New age passes Faldo by

Tim Glover finds the former champion beset by unfamiliar doubts
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The Independent Online
On the eve of the Open Championship at Royal Troon, Nick Faldo was feted at a reception at the Marine Hotel by his long-time sponsor, Pringle. They presented him with an impressive trophy, on which was inscribed his 39 professional victories and pointed out that as he would be celebrating his 40th birthday during the tournament, an Open triumph would neatly balance the equation.

In the company of the Scottish knitwear firm, the Englishman looked comfortable, as if he was slipping into a favourite old sweater. John Simpson, his manager, made an observation. "The presence of Tiger Woods has taken the pressure off the others, including Nick."

Faldo, however, needs no lessons in creating self-induced pressure. Prior to the Open he had a public row (he thought it was private) with his club manufacturer, Mizuno. Nor did his mood improve once the championship got under way. Following a two over par 73 in the second round he snapped at a photographer, who was focusing on Faldo's American girlfriend: "You're here to take pictures of golf and nothing else. I'll get you thrown out."

On the first tee the gallery had broken into a chorus of "Happy Birthday To You" but far from providing inspiration it seemed to remind Faldo of his fallibility. As he is getting older, the majors seem to be getting harder. His second round included a seven at the fourth and afterwards he declined, not for the first time, to enter the press tent.

This in itself is contrary to the nature of golf. It is part of the therapeutic process. Anybody who plays the game has a desperate need to recount triumphs and disasters, irrespective of whether they have a willing audience. Nick Price, one of his playing partners, could not wait to unburden his thoughts, calling the pace of play "pathetic, ridiculous" and citing Faldo as a leading culprit.

It is not difficult to conclude that that evening Faldo did not hit the Bollinger tent and blow out 40 candles. Thereafter he shot 75, 72, and finished joint 51st with an aggregate of 291, seven over par and 19 strokes behind Justin Leonard. He had the same aggregate in the US Open in which he closed with a 76, while at the Masters he failed to get beyond the second round. Faldo and Tiger were joint favourites but when Woods shot 30 over the back nine on the first day it ceased to be a competition.

Faldo was reduced to the role of butler, placing the green jacket, not to mention the world, on the slender shoulders of a 21-year- old. A year earlier, of course, Faldo had won the Masters for a third time, turning a six-shot deficit to Greg Norman into a five-shot victory. Faldo gave Norman a hug, explaining: "What he went through was horrible. It's hard to repair that."

There are no signs that Norman has fully recovered from the experience (the collapse, not the hug) and there has been little evidence that Faldo has repaired the scars inflicted by Tiger. Forty is a dangerous age and it prompts a dangerous question: is Faldo yesterday's man? He said his game was 10 per cent off at Troon, but his putting was a lot worse than that. When Faldo looks for perfection and does not find it, he seems incapable of adapting. His flame merely flickers.

The former world No 1 is certainly on the slide in the rankings, down to 14th in the world pecking order and 17th in Europe's Ryder Cup points table. As he plays on the US Tour there is little or no prospect of him qualifying in the top 10 for Valderrama in September. He has to rely on the captain, Seve Ballesteros, naming him as one of two selections in the team of 12. If Jose Maria Olazabal does not qualify it is safe to assume Seve would pick him and if Faldo gets the other vote, there would be no place for Jesper Parnevik.

Tom Watson, Faldo's counterpart in that he is 17th in the United States table, could not contemplate a European team without Faldo. "His record is tremendous and he still has a great aura and presence," Watson said. "He is far from washed up. Seve must pick him. I don't see how he can be ignored."

Maybe not, but Faldo, who fully justified his selection for the last match at Oak Hill, Rochester, two years ago, making a vital contribution in an unexpected victory, is not making it any easier for Ballesteros.

Chasing easy money is still part of the game. Last Sunday, instead of casting an eye over Troon, Faldo played with Colin Montgomerie, the Duke of York and Gavin Hastings to christen the Duke of Roxburgh's new course and this week, instead of trying to earn Ryder Cup points in the Dutch Open, he is playing in a pointless skins game in Vancouver.

While they are receiving offers they cannot and will not refuse, a younger generation is cornering the major market: Woods, Ernie Els, who is 27, and last week the 25-year-old Leonard. Faldo has just re-issued a book, A Swing For Life. The timing could have been better.

Ryder Cup standings

1 C Montgomerie 825,400.78pts; 2 D Clarke 576,890.35; 3 I Woosnam 505,574.69; 4 L Westwood 430,658.17; 5 B Langer 371,577.96; 6 P-U Johansson 330,035.30; 7 T Bjorn 327,011.59; 8 M A Martin 324,400.30; 9 C Rocca 303,515.29; 10 J M Olazabal 261,834.06; 11 P Harrington 258,015.04; 12 P Broadhurst 255,644.68; 13 S Torrance 219,021.21; 14 I Garrido 213,601.22; 15 M James 210,259.86; 16 P Mitchell 208,934.32; 17 N Faldo 190,297.95; 18 R McFarlane 186,759.93; 19 D Gilford, 186,676.59; 20 R Chapman 182,612.45.

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