Golf / US PGA Championship: Faldo aims to lay European bogy: Confidence of the world No 1 is high as he prepares to take on the Americans in pursuit of a sixth major title

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BIG Jim Barnes won the first US PGA Championship in 1916. On that occasion the Cornishman's patsy was one Jock Hutchinson and Barnes won one up at Siwanoy Country Club in Bronxville, New York.

Due to the intervention of the First World War, the championship did not resume until 1919, and Barnes won again. In those days it was match play and the expatriate Brits were good at it. Then the Americans took over and it has remained the one major championship beyond the reach of Europe. Now it is strokeplay and Nick Faldo, currently the best strokeplayer in the world, is ready, willing and able to lay Barnes, and the bogy, to rest.

The 74th US PGA Championship begins this morning at the Bellerive Country Club and Faldo is one-third of the dream team: the Open champion with Fred Couples, the Masters winner, and Tom Kite, the US Open champion. The crucial difference between them is that the 35-year-old Englishman has five major victories to his name and he wants more. Couples and Kite have won one apiece and they may settle for that.

Faldo, ranked No 1 in the world, is playing in his 11th US PGA. In the last five years his record is tied 28th, fifth, tied ninth, tied 18th and tied 16th. Another difference this year is that, in his own words, he has never played better and, by his standards, that is some gauntlet he has thrown down in Missouri.

The only thing Faldo is at a loss to explain is why the fourth and last major championship of the season annually remains the property of Americans. 'I don't see why we can't win here,' he said. 'Somebody needs to analyse it.'

Here goes. The Masters is the only one of the big four that has a permanent home, and is played in April before the American summer breaks into a sweat. The Masters was also predominantly the preserve of Americans until Sandy Lyle made a breakthrough in 1988 and prompted a European gold rush. Faldo won in Augusta in 1989 and 1990 and Ian Woosnam won in 1991. The Atlantic no longer looked like the Rubicon. The US Open, second on the list of the big ones, remains as aloof to Europeans as the US PGA. The venues are spreadeagled throughout America at a time of the year when the temperature is hot to brutal and the list of things to overcome is lengthy. Acclimatisation is the first thing, followed by a regular sleep pattern. Then there are the courses. They are invariably long, the fairways invariably narrow, the greens invariably fast.

When the wind got up during the last round of this year's US Open at Pebble Beach in California, the greens, according to Faldo and others, were impossibly fast. Short of taking up topless darts, he is putting his complaints in writing to the United States Golf Association. Bellerive, a playground for wealthy St Louisians, will not be like Pebble Beach but it will play like most US PGA courses: the rough is severe, so you avoid it like the plague, and the par threes are exactly that. Anything under a three is a bonus.

Then there is John Daly. Twelve months ago Daly, who got a place in the championship at Crooked Stick at the 12th hour as ninth reserve, won with outrageous driving and impeccable putting. He is now armed with a club called the Killer Whale. 'This course is a little tighter than Crooked Stick so there's no telling where it will go,' Daly said. Spoken like a true champ.

Faldo has the game and the form to conform to this type of methodical golf but any odds offered on him that are less than making an each-way bet possible are not worth taking. 'There's a lot of pressure in being the top dog,' Faldo said, 'especially at the end when you see the finish line. It's all part of the learning process and you've got to witness it. You hope you'll put yourself in that position again.'

Accuracy off the tee is essential and then it is down to the putter. The greens are not treacherously quick and most are accommodatingly large. Reading between the lines that Faldo uttered yesterday, Bellerive will be won by the man who gets lucky on the greens. 'The course is easy to the point of boring,' Faldo said. 'You go from A to B, B to C. To the middle of the fairway to the middle of the green. Go forth and play. I feel I've got a free run at this.'

He did not have a free run in practice yesterday, when his round took five and a half hours. 'It knocked the hell out of me,' he said. Nevertheless he is confident of doing the same to the opposition. 'As soon as I get to the ball I know what club to hit. I can hit a series of different shots.'

Faldo is also in good spirits. When asked, innocently, about his relationship with his caddie Fanny Sunesson he replied: 'That's a hell of a question. I'm a married man. Just because Fanny's a woman it doesn't mean she's different to the men. In a sense she's one of the guys. She loves her job, she's dedicated and she trains hard. There are not too many guys who train more than their right arm at the bar. Off the course the whole thing is like a travelling circus. We all need to go to razzmatazz classes.'

At the moment Faldo, whose wife Gill is expecting their third child, is taking lessons at flying a helicopter. 'It's for my own security,' he said. 'It's in my own hands. I suddenly thought that if something happened to the pilot I'd be in trouble.' He will get his pilot's licence at the end of next year. At the end of this week there is a chance he will be on cloud nine, with or without a chopper.

(Photograph omitted)

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