Rocca rolls past Faldo down the Burma Road

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The Independent Online
During his career, Costantino Rocca has had to put up with some jokes, in the poorest taste, about Italian tanks having reverse gears but yesterday he went into overdrive down the closing stretch of Burma Road to win the Volvo PGA Championship, the European Tour's first pounds 1m tournament. The Italian reformation was complete, for not only did Rocca win pounds 166,660 but he did so in the most impressive style possible: he kept Nick Faldo in his shadow.

Rocca almost singlehandedly took the blame for Europe's defeat in the Ryder Cup at The Belfry in 1993 when he missed a short putt at the penultimate hole before losing a crucial singles match. Although he played an important role in Europe's victory in America last September, there were still nagging doubts about whether Rocca was a big-time winner. He won two Tour events in 1993 and last year was second on five occasions, most memorably in the Open Championship at St Andrews, where he was defeated in a play-off by John Daly.

Yesterday when Rocca looked in his rear-view mirror he saw a sight regarded by most players as worse than a flashing blue light. The majority pull in and allow Faldo to overtake. The 39-year-old Rocca, though, was fortified by an article he had read in an Italian newspaper. "Nick Faldo said that if he had to lose a major to me he would be happy. Today he finished second to me and I think he's happy." Not quite happy, but there is no dishonour in finishing runner up to a golfer of Rocca's quality.

The final round began with Rocca and Mark McNulty leading at 11 under, one stroke in front of Paul Lawrie and three in front of Faldo. Faldo got in an early blow with a rare birdie three at the first where he hit a three-iron approach to 15 feet and by the time he reached the 13th he appeared to have stamped his authority on the championship.

By that stage, Faldo had gone to 12 under. He had birdies at the fourth, the 11th and the 12th but it was the 13th that not only brought him his only bogey of the round but provided Rocca with the breathing space he needed. Faldo had come into the championship wearing a new philosophy on his sleeve: to be more aggressive with his putting, go with the flow and if the first one does not go in, tough.

The first putt did not go in at the 13th, nor did the second and when that lipped out of the hole he glared at a scapegoat around the green. "A photographer was taking pictures at the wrong time," Faldo snapped. Even so, he was back on course when he holed from 25 feet for a birdie three at the 15th which got him back to 12 under.

The F factor (when the heartbeat almost bounces through the sweater) seemed to come into play when Rocca, who had got to 13 under, sliced his drive into the trees at the 15th. He was lucky to limit the damage to a bogey five. "Into my mind came this little thought," he said, referring to the newspaper article.

Faldo was heading for a 66 but, critically, he failed to get a birdie at the 17th and 18th, both par fives. Rocca birdied both to finish at 14 under, finally holing from around 10 feet at the last for a two-stroke victory over Faldo and Lawrie. The runners up each won pounds 86,850 but whereas this represented a minor triumph for Lawrie, it was a major lapse for Faldo. At the 18th, he had a six-iron approach to the green, was looking for an eagle and instead found a bunker. This time it was Faldo, not Rocca, who had come up short and it is arguable as to whether the crowd would have warmed more to the Englishman than the Italian. Rocca seemed to think that London's Italian restaurants had been closed so the staff could line the fairways but even if the Burma Road had a spaghetti junction, the fact is you do not have to be born in Bergamo to raise a glass to the ageing Rocca.

The championship was televised by the BBC, which appears to be on something of a film roll at the moment. Having extended its contract to cover the Open Championship for the next five years, the corporation signed a four- year deal with the European Tour - which may take in Russia next year - yesterday to secure rights to some blue chip events, including this one.

As press conferences go, it was hardly a great advertisement for the technological revolution. At one point, Jonathan Martin, the BBC's head of sport, was interrupted by one of his employees, albeit the doyen of commentators, Peter Alliss. "Jonathan," Alliss, said, sounding for all the world as if his boss had just missed a three-footer, "can you please repeat the questions, because people in the audience don't know what the hell you're on about."

This was hardly Martin's job, and in any case you would have thought he had enough clout to instruct Alliss to put down his glass of champagne and lend his authority to the proceedings. In fairness, Alliss's rejoinder was necessary. It improved the process of communication.

The BBC, which has had its feet up in the clubhouse for some years, has been shaken out of the old armchair by BSkyB which, apart from doing a deal with the Tour to cover the majority of tournaments, has the prized Ryder Cup at least until the year 2001.

Scores, Sporting Digest, page 21