NICK FALDO likes the Carrolls Irish Open so much he was almost tempted to buy a pint of the black stuff. The world No 1 won the championship for an unprecedented third time in a row yesterday when he defeated Jose-Maria Olazabal at the first extra hole of a sudden death play-off. The Ryder Cup pair had played some inspired golf in the fourth round after which they were locked together at 12 under par.
Faldo, who began the day four strokes behind Olazabal, set the standard when he established a course record of 65 and then he had to wait half an hour to see if the Spaniard could match his aggregate of 276 or beat it. Olazabal shot 69 which, under normal circumstances, would have been good enough to win but yesterday Faldo found an extra dimension. If history repeats itself, and it tends to when Faldo is in the Emerald Isle, he should be in for a very good Open Championship at Sandwich next week.
Faldo won the Irish Open at Killarney in the previous two years and 12 months ago it sparked a wonderful run. In all he won six titles including the Open at Muirfield. 'This is good for my confidence and that's a very important part of golf,' he said.
Faldo was playing in only his seventh European Tour event this season - he won the second one, the Johnnie Walker Classic in Singapore - but had a miserable June. He missed the halfway cut in the Volvo PGA Championship at Wentworth, was joint 33rd in the Dunhill Masters at Woburn and joint 72nd in the US Open at Baltusrol. 'I just can't do it,' he said. 'I just can't do it on the golf course.' He went fishing and he went practising. This week he was able to do a lot of both, curing a slice with a hook. He also had the moral support here of his coach, David Leadbetter, and they worked together before the fourth round. Faldo used a new driver with a graphite shaft and if his play off the tee was impressive so was his putting.
Last year he was four strokes ahead going into the final round and eventually won in a play-off with Wayne Westner. He knew he needed a 65 or better here to win. Faldo overtook Olazabal when he holed a 30-foot putt at the 12th, his sixth birdie of the day, and he got another at the 17th. He saved par at the formidable 18th hole, the hardest on the course, when he got up and down from a bunker, securing his four with a five-foot putt.
Olazabal, playing behind Faldo, also holed some very testing putts to set up a fascinating duel. He got down from 15 feet to save par at the 15th and holed a bunker shot at the 16th for a birdie three, which put him at 11 under for the tournament. Then, despite missing the green at the long 17th, he chipped to five feet and rolled that in for another birdie to draw level with the Englishman. The 18th had yielded only 12 birdies (166 bogeys) all week and Olazabal had to sink a four-foot putt for par.
The 18th, 476 yards with a lake to the left of the fairway, was masochistically chosen as the play-off hole and neither player could find the green with their approach shots. Faldo went through the green and Olazabal's ball landed in a bunker, the same trap that Faldo had been in. The Spaniard, playing first, came out to within five feet of the flag. Faldo's chip from the rough rolled about 10 feet past and he made the putt; Olazabal's putt to match Faldo's four hit the right-hand side of the hole and lipped out.
Faldo was paired with David Frost and they got down to serious work over the front nine, both bringing the best out of each other. Faldo went to the turn in 31, Frost in 33 and they came back in 34, 35 respectively. Frost was left to reflect on the sextuple bogey 10 he took at the 18th in the first round. That apart he covered 71 holes in 15 under par and moved into third place, three strokes off the lead.
Costantino Rocca of Italy and Joakim Haeggman of Sweden improved their chances of qualifying for the Ryder Cup team as did Steven Richardson. Richardson, who played in the last Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island, has been struggling this year. 'I reckon I need another pounds 100,000 to make the team,' Richardson said. 'I need to win a tournament.' The Open at Royal St George's, where he won the English Amateur Championship in 1989, would do nicely but the bookmakers are already installing another Englishman as favourite.
CARROLLS IRISH OPEN (Mount Juliet, Co Kilkenny) Leading final scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 276 N Faldo 72 67 72 65; J M Olazabal (Sp) 69 67 71 69 (Faldo won at first extra hole). 279 D Frost (SA) 74 69 68 68. 280 S Richardson 71 68 72 69. 281 C Rocca (It) 71 70 71 69. 282 R Goosen (SA) 69 72 75 66; O Karlsson (Swe) 71 67 72 72. 283 W Westner (SA) 73 69 73 68; J Haeggman (Swe) 71 68 72 72; P-U Johansson (Swe) 69 68 72 74. 284 I Woosnam 71 72 72 69. 285 P McGinley 75 71 69 70; S Bowman (US) 70 71 71 73. 286 W Riley (Aus) 69 74 73 70; D W Basson (SA) 70 73 72 71; B Langer (Ger) 68 69 76 73; J McHenry 67 70 70 79. 287 A Hunter 72 70 74 71; T Johnstone (Zim) 72 70 74 71; S Luna (Sp) 68 71 76 72; R Davis (Aus) 71 73 71 72; M James 72 70 72 73. 288 P O'Malley (Aus) 75 72 73 68; F Nobilo (NZ) 73 70 73 72; S Ballesteros (Sp) 73 73 70 72; R McFarlane 72 72 71 73; C Montgomerie 74 71 70 73; B Marchbank 66 76 72 74; D Smyth 73 70 70 75.
European Order of Merit,
Ryder Cup standings, page 31
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