Faldo under fire as slow-play row boils over

Sabbatini and wife question 'morals and professionalism' of former champion

The claustrophobic world of professional golf loves a feud and the talk of the third round of The Players Championship yesterday was the extraordinary slow-play row that has broken out between Nick Faldo and Rory Sabbatini, the leader of the US Tour money list. Oh, and Mrs Sabbatini.

The argument - which intensified during the second round when the South African's wife, Amy, donned a T-Shirt emblazoned with the message "Keep up!" - took on a humorous twist when Faldo said: "I think it's very embarrassing for them to bring their sexual problems out on to the course. Poor fellow. He obviously has enough problems without her announcing them to the world." In truth, this was no laughing matter with Sabbatini questioning the six-time major winner's "morals and professionalism".

It started in Thursday's first round when Sabbatini, one of the Tour's fastest operators, was informed on the 14th tee that the group were being timed by officials concerned at their snail-like progress. Cue outrage from the Sabbatinis as Amy remonstrated with an official by the side of the green after her "distracted" husband had taken a double-bogey which somewhat ruined the three birdies he had just had in succession.

"It's no coincidence that his round went pear-shaped after that," said Amy. Faldo almost concurred. "He completely lost his head with the officials, I don't know what his problem was," said the 49-year-old. "We were back in place within one hole, it was no problem." To Sabbatini it sure was, but then he does have something of a history of raging against the slowcoaches.

At last June's Booz Allen Classic, he incurred a fine for marching away from his sluggish playing partner Ben Crane and playing the last two holes on his own. He later apologised and swore he would change, but that was not evident on Thursday when he embarked on a 20-minute shouting barrage in the scorer's tent before emerging in tears. The plot thickened and Amy left that night promising to thicken it some more. Which she duly did with her provocative T-shirt. "I made it with glue this morning," Amy said, rather proudly.

The squabble was born in the wake of the Booz Allen when Faldo, in his role as ABC summariser, announced on television that as Sabbatini had a thing about slow play if he was playing against him he might deliberately put his foot on the brakes. On Friday night, Sabbatini revealed how much that comment had been eating at him.

"When people say that if they were paired with you they would slow-play you, that leaves a lot of questions about their morals and professionalism," he said, before putting the boot in a bit further when exonerating the third member of the three-ball. "Camilo [Villegas] was a true gentleman and showed true professionalism. I'll leave it at that."

In other words, this year's Nissan Open champion believes it should have been Faldo being spoken to in the first round and not himself. "Rory should never have been told of slow play as he's one of the quickest out there," declared Amy. "What he's most annoyed about is that the Tour have a new policy where they can time individuals and not groups. I want to know why don't they do this? I think they aren't enforcing the rules because they're all buddies. That's why I've worn this T-shirt as a protest against slow-play in general. I've had a few chuckles and nods of agreement. But it hasn't worked. Today was even slower than yesterday. The first nine holes took almost three hours, for goodness sake."

Perhaps Amy is right as it did not seem to do Sabbatini or Faldo any favours. The former shot a 81, the latter a 79 and they both went home. Not together, of course.

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