Golf: Wily Faldo underlines supremacy

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NICK FALDO got what he deserved at the 18th hole. He thought his putt from around 15 feet was not going to make it to the hole and neither did his playing partner, and nearest challenger, Colin Montgomerie. The ball, on its last roll, thought twice about defying gravity before dropping into the cup. When it comes to the acid test, the world No 1, and rising, has the litmus touch.

Faldo, of course, won the Johnnie Walker Classic over the Singapore Island Country Club yesterday. And he was disappointed with his putting. After making his final stroke he was convinced it would not be his last. The putt at the 72nd hole resulted in a birdie-four instead of a five and his round of 68 put him at 11 under par for the championship, one stroke in front of Montgomerie. For 1993 read 1992.

Faldo led by three strokes going into the final round and Montgomerie, who was second on four occasions last year, was the only player to give him a run for his money. The status quo was maintained when they both reached the turn in 34 but the Scotsman made his move over the back nine. He made five birdies on the homeward stretch and came in with 32 to Faldo's 34: a 66 to a 68, 270 to 269.

'I made it by the skin of a balata,' Faldo said. Banana would have been more universally acceptable but balata refers to the coating of the ball Faldo was using. In the second round on the same hole, Faldo, faced with a slightly shorter putt, was convinced his ball would drop into the hole and it did not. Swings and roundabouts.

Faldo has the swing and Big Monty makes his fortune in a roundabout way. He is beginning to sound like a bridesmaid. 'If I'd been up against somebody else I would probably have won,' Montgomerie said. 'I'll go to Tenerife and other places he doesn't like. Unfortunately he plays in The Open. He doesn't give anything away. I shoot 66 and I still lose. I don't know what I'm supposed to do. It was a good effort. Second again. I felt sure a four at the last would be good enough to get me into a play-off.'

The consolation for Montgomerie, who was beaten in a play-off for the Volvo Masters in Valderrama in November, is that had it gone to sudden death he would probably have ended up with another bouquet. Another consolation is that he won pounds 61,100 and his place in the European Ryder Cup team, which plays the United States at The Belfry in September, seems assured.

Montgomerie, for the first time in the championship, had a birdie at the first hole, holing a putt from nine feet. Faldo missed from four feet and the game was on. It was a private affair, a head-to-head, more match-play than stroke-play, between Ryder Cup colleagues.

Choi Sang-ho, the leading professional from Korea, shot 67 to finish at six under and he was the leader in the clubhouse. Out on the course the daily leader had a fight on his hands. A crowd in excess of 5,000 followed Faldo and at the more chaotic moments - if a fairway was 80 yards wide the marshals, trying to control the spectators, were doing so with a rope which stretched to 60 yards - it was Montgomerie who reacted. At the eighth he yelled: 'Shut up]'

Nevertheless, Montgomerie made his move by getting down from 40 feet for a birdie-three at the 10th. He three-putted the 12th and then strung three birdies together from the 13th. When they walked off the 15th he and Faldo were level at 10 under par for the tournament. There was a two-shot swing at the 14th, a par three of 179 yards. Faldo had three putts at the 14th for a four and Montgomerie sank a putt of 15 feet for a two.

At the 15th Montgomerie's approach shot finished 10 feet from the flag and he made that. He described the four-iron shot to the green as the best he has ever made under pressure. He could not sustain the pressure on Faldo. Montgomerie missed the green on the 16th, found a bunker, came out to 16 feet and left the putt short. Faldo was back in front, by one stroke, and after they had pars at the penultimate hole, the Englishman matched the Scotsman's birdie four at the last. 'I gave him one chance to get back in and he took it,' Faldo said. 'I managed to weasel my way out of it.' When it comes to weaselling, Faldo is easily the best.

Scores, Sport in Short, page 27