Golf / The Open Championship: Market leaders in the best nick: Robert Green on the qualities that have made Faldo and Price the leading players in the world and favourites for the championship

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THERE is a strong chance that a Nick will be Open champion at Royal St George's this week. But will Faldo make it four wins in seven years or will Price be right?

There is not much to choose between them. Nick Faldo will be 36 next Sunday; Price turned 36 last January. They share the same coach, David Leadbetter, and they are, respectively, top of the European and US money lists. Bizarrely, they were both disqualified for rules infringements at the Sun City Challenge in South Africa last December.

There are differences, of course. Faldo is English; Price Zimbabwean. (Leadbetter was born in England, raised in Zimbabwe, and lives in Florida.) Faldo's swing has the sort of even-paced rhythm that makes his peers emulous; Price's tempo is quick, although enviably repetitious. Faldo has won five major championships, including last year's Open, to Price's one. And Faldo heads the Sony Rankings, in which Price is third. But despite Faldo's win in Ireland last week, Price is the hottest golfer in the world at present. He has won the last two tournaments in America and won over dollars 1 million this season.

Price has blossomed comparatively late. He almost won the Open at Troon in 1982, but a double-bogey at the 15th on the Sunday effectively handed the title to Tom Watson. He nearly won it in 1988, but even a closing 69 on top of a two-shot lead was not enough to withstand Seve Ballesteros's finishing 65.

Price's first major arrived at the USPGA Championship last August, since when he has won six more times from 25 starts, with 10 other top-10 finishes. At the US Open last month, he hit the ball with the brisk, simple efficiency and accuracy of the old Tom Watson. Sadly, he putted like the new Tom Watson. Putting is his Achilles' heel.

Price's success has been rapturously received. There is not a more popular golfer in the game. 'Right now, you'd have to call him the best player in the world,' said Greg Norman jovially after Price had beaten him by five shots in Chicago last weekend. And the media love him. One American writer noted recently: 'Ask him for a minute and he'll give you 20.' When Price said at the US Open that his strategy called for 'cautious aggression - my favourite oxymoron', the press wondered how many other players would have known the word, let alone used it correctly.

Talk of media relations ineluctably leads to Faldo. Ballesteros told the British press recently: 'You have waited so long to find a champion and now you have one. Why don't you like him?'

Faldo's excruciating victory speech at the Open last year gave part of the answer; there is not much love lost between the two parties, for which the fourth estate must take a substantial portion of the blame.

Much of the perceived antipathy, or at least ambivalence, towards Faldo stems from what he isn't. He isn't a Ballesteros, who plays golf the way we do - all over the place. He isn't a Sandy Lyle, who appears relaxed - as if he doesn't care - and sometimes talks that way, too. Although the British have precious few of them, we want our sporting champions to win with flair. Thus we mock 'boring Steve Davis' because he isn't Jimmy White. If Bjorn Borg had been British, he would have been criticised for being soporific instead of being lauded as enigmatic.

To call Faldo's golf boring - an allegation that has been made - is really to acknowledge his brilliance. At his best, he appears almost infallible. Therein lies part of the problem. One of the great attractions of sport is its glorious unpredictability. Take that away and you remove a major reason for enjoying it. There have been periods over the past few years when it has seemed that the only man who could deny Faldo was himself, as when he came perilously close to squandering the Open last summer before his own resolve and John Cook's mistakes retrieved the situation.

Of course, Faldo does not win all the time. But he does have a go at it. In his last 27 tournaments, he has won eight times and been in the top six on eight other occasions. In a sport where nobody since Ben Hogan in 1953 has won more often than they have lost, Faldo and Price have astonishing recent records.

Faldo may never be as popular as Price; Price may never be as good as Faldo. And maybe neither of them will win the Open this week. To paraphrase Damon Runyon, victory does not always go to the best player - but it is the smart way to bet.

----------------------------------------------------------------- OPEN BETTING ----------------------------------------------------------------- 6/1. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Nick Faldo 10/1. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Nick Price 12/1. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Bernhard Langer 14/1. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Fred Couples . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Payne Stewart 16/1. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Greg Norman . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Paul Azinger 20/1. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Jose Maria Olazabal 25/1. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Tom Kite . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ian Woosnam 28/1. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sandy Lyle 33/1. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Lee Janzen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Davis Love III . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . John Cook . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . David Frost . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Craig Parry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Colin Montgomerie . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ian Baker-Finch 40/1. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Steve Elkington . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Corey Pavin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ernie Els . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Tom Watson -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photographs omitted)

Comments