THE 126th OPEN: Fiddler on the hoof takes a late tumble

the progress of Nick Faldo, whose two-over-par second round failed to satisfy expectations and soured his 40th birthday celebrations
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Nick Faldo's moods are determined by the outcome of his efforts. This is not an unusual trait among tournament golfers but just by looking at Faldo's face you can tell what sort of a day it has been at the office.

If yesterday was not one of the worst, it did not come up to Faldo's high expectations. Going off at level par he finished his second round two over, which prompted the accurate prediction that he would be grumpy in analysis.

Faldo's 40th birthday (the gallery sang to him on the first tee) was just another flick of the calendar. It brought no inspiration. Quite clearly put out by unfortunate experiences, he chose not to show up for interrogation; just a few words outside the scorer's tent then off to the practice ground. "Sometimes you hit a good shot only to get punished by a bad bounce," he complained.

To be fair, Faldo admitted that a seven at the par-five fourth was self- inflicted. He went from rough on the left to rough on the right and then into a bunker. Three putts after coming out short did not improve his humour. "It was a while before I got that out of my head," he added.

Faldo fiddles so much in preparation for a shot it can be imagined that he would welcome computerised club selection. His caddie, Fanny Sunesson, is guaranteed to pick out movements in the crowd and draw them to his attention. Nobody dares to speak even in a whisper for fear of reprimand.

Only one of Faldo's six major championships, three Opens, three Masters, was won in anything like spectacular fashion. At St Andrews in 1990 he annihilated Greg Norman in the third round to make the outcome a formality.

In more familiar mode Faldo grinds down the opposition. Boldness rarely enters his calculations. That double- bogey apart, yesterday's round was a good example: 16 pars, one birdie.

That can work when the opposition is crumbling but not when Faldo finds himself well adrift of the opposition. Unable to move his act forward, 11 shots behind the tournament leader, Darren Clarke, he is unlikely to be in contention.

"I didn't scramble as well as I did yesterday," Faldo said. "Couldn't hole a putt. If I'd got one here and there it could have made a big difference. Maybe a 69 or a 70. I had a good half-dozen chances from from 20 feet or less but I didn't make any. I made a mistake at the fourth and put myself under pressure.

"The weather was better today but that does not mean you will score better. That's golf. Every day is different."

Watching Faldo set up for a shot you can almost feel yourself growing older. A fiddle here, an adjustment there, a study in concentration. In Faldo's mind the thinking is high technology.

On one tee, Nick Price could be seen studying Faldo's address position intently. Unable to repair the damage of a first-round 78, the 1994 Open champion was having one of those days when a sight of the clubhouse cannot come too quickly. Playing partners may feel the need to check that they are indeed in the same match as Faldo, because they do not get anything from him in the way of idle conversation. Price could have done with some encouragement because at eight over he was on his way out.

Tommy Tolles, who has yet to win on the US Tour but has made enough in prize-money to figure prominently in the Ryder Cup rankings, improved on his opening round, shooting 68 to ensure further participation.

Faldo is still in the field and refuses to concede that he is out of it. "I must shoot two very good scores," he said, "and if that happens you never know. If the weather gets tough I might get a shot at it." As for birthday presents he claimed not to have received any.

It can be tough out there, tougher than perhaps the galleries imagine. Jack Newton, who lost his right arm in an accident some years after Tom Watson defeated him in a play- off for the 1976 Open at Carnoustie, rates Troon an extremely difficult course.

"I reckon Troon and Carnoustie to be the toughest on the Open circuit," he said. "Here you can hit a great shot and be unlucky with the undulations. If you find a flat lie it's a bonus. No matter what the weather it's still hard to score well out there."

Faldo did not have to be told that, but his experiences yesterday confirmed the assessment. Coming down the last, a par would have seen him at one over. Instead he took three putts and left the green scowling. Somebody shouted encouragement but Faldo was not listening. Unlike Price he did not have to think about packing his bags, but he was not in a position to think about winning.