Stock of Faldo Inc rises around the world

Tim Glover finds the Masters champion surrounded by many new-found friends
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When Nick Faldo left Europe for America he did so under a large black cloud. "An oeuf is an oeuf," he said, during the Lancome Trophy in Paris before criticising the press, the condition of courses on the European Tour, the weather and possibly the amount of traffic on the M25. Yesterday the sun greeted the return of the prodigal son and he is soaking up the adulation.

Faldo is at The Oxfordshire for the Benson and Hedges International, which starts tomorrow, his first appearance in England since his extraordinary victory in the Masters at Augusta last month. "That was one of the biggest for public interest and attention," Faldo said. "It had the largest television audience in America and nine million people watched it over here. I think I have met those nine million in the last few weeks. They've been hanging out of the windows and shouting at me. The response from everybody has been very big. It's very nice. It's a new interest for me."

Faldo's relationship with the people has always been rosier than with the Fourth Estate. "It would be very tough for the press to criticise me after the Masters," he said. "Pick the bones out of that one. The public have always liked me, very much so."

The only dark cloud that appeared over the Oxfordshire countryside yesterday coincided with questions over his private life. Yes, his American girlfriend Brenna Cepelak is with him and they are renting a house. "I'm not discussing the relationship," he said. When he was asked about a divorce from his wife, Gill, he did not utter a single syllable. He simply shrugged his shoulders.

Faldo's achievement in winning a third Green Jacket at Augusta, consigning Greg Norman to a straitjacket by scoring a 67 to the Australian's 78, has left him with a large postbag to deal with, including a telegram from the Prime Minister, but it was praise from his fellow professionals that he found particularly heartwarming.

"It was the nicest feeling. My 67 was the best round of the weekend... It was a hell of a round under the circumstances. That is coming through in the comments of other players. I've been thinking about it.

"When I went to Augusta I wasn't bursting with confidence. I was waiting for something to happen. I was mentally very strong on the final day but it's very easy to be mentally strong and not play the right shots. Ben Hogan said the game was 100 per cent mental and 100 per cent physical. I was able to hit it where I wanted to hit it. The way I played under that pressure, especially over the last nine holes..."

His triumph in the Masters, which brought him his sixth major title, has resulted in a considerable boost to his business interests. Pringle, the Scottish knitwear company, put their shirt on Faldo and the design he wore on that final day in Augusta has been in such demand that Scottish sheep are catching pneumonia. The drop in temperature here means that he can now model Pringle's range of sweaters. As for the Mizuno glove he wore at the Masters, women, apparently, have been buying them as the latest fashion accessory. "We all know golfers are mad," John Simpson, Faldo's business adviser, said, "but the sales of the glove with women has been amazing. It's a huge market."

His success is also good news for Jaguar, another of his blue chip connections. He drives one in America and one in Britain and when the new sports coupe, the XK8, is launched in October, he will drive that as well. Yesterday morning he signed a deal to design a new course in China and is already involved in building 10 in the Far East. Thus far he has designed only one in Britain, Chart Hills in Kent, and was stymied by the local council after buying Gadbridge Farm in Holyport, Berkshire, where he failed to get approval to build a 27-hole pay-as-you-play course. He has since sold the land but is in the process of negotiating with a company to develop a string of Faldo golf centres. "My main priority is to bring golf to everybody."

Faldo has three Masters and three Opens, and his goal is to round off his cv with the US Open and US PGA titles. Nor will he rule out the possibility, however remote, of winning the Grand Slam, all four in the same season. "I wouldn't say it's impossible," he said, "but Jack Nicklaus has never done it, nobody's done it. That shows how difficult it is. Getting three Jackets has moved me up into different company. It's nice to know that I'm still capable of carrying it through. I'm not going to charge around the world. I don't need to do that. Quality golf is all I'm looking for."

Faldo said that his decision to join the US Tour has enabled him to "enjoy the best of both worlds". He has been reunited with the courses at Swinley Forest and Wentworth and has indulged his passion for fishing. When he gets divorced it is estimated it will cost him in the region of $7m (pounds 4.6m), but his business portfolio is so healthy he is thinking of splashing out on a new salmon rod. If there were such a thing, he could probably afford a rod for smoked salmon.