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Faldo continues push for 2004 Captains role

There are still 10 days to go, but already some are thinking beyond this Ryder Cup. Territory is being claimed, manoeuvres undertaken for the next time.
When Ian Woosnam shot a timely 66 in Cologne over the weekend it was reported as the first step in his campaign to be elevated from the vice-captaincy this time to the major job next.

And Nick Faldo, the most successful European in the tournament's history, has been making himself very visible these past couple of weeks, from announcing that he will be commentating on the event on television, to inviting his old sparring partner, the media, to his lovely home in Windsor to introduce them to the new, warm, witty and welcoming Nick Faldo.

"I've put my name down, oh yeah," he says of the captaincy. "Before the last one I started to think, if I was going to captain I'd want to captain my contemporaries; I'd like to do it sooner rather than later. I'd have to admit I'm in the frame, yeah."

As a player, Faldo certainly has the record for it. No one has contributed as much over such a period to the European cause as he has: 11 tournaments, more games played than anyone else, more points accrued. And he is still playing with sufficient merit that many an observer reckons he should have been invited along as the European team's wild card this time around, 23 years on from his first appearance.

The trouble is, great player though he is, a Faldo-for- Ryder-Cup-captain ticket is likely to divide opinion along the lines of those Geoff Boycott-for-chairman bandwagons that occasionally used to roll in Yorkshire cricket circles. With the vote falling roughly into two camps: 1 - The man himself. 2 - Everybody else.

Popularity has never been his middle name. Not only among the press (with whom he has endured a long-standing hate-hate relationship), but also with the fans (he was always reckoned too aloof) and his fellow players (much the same, with bells on).

Indeed, at the last Ryder Cup the captain Mark James used Faldo as a motivational tool, a kind of anti-role model, very publicly chucking a good-luck card the player had sent to the team into the bin before they went out to engage with the Americans.

When James revealed the incident in a book, so infuriated was Faldo that in the lead-up to last year's aborted competition he was everywhere demanding an apology, threatening legal action, venting his spleen. A year on, it seems the incident still rankles.

"No, I'm not happy about what happened," he says. "I don't agree with what happened, but I don't hold out any hope of it being resolved. You just have to accept it as one of those things."

But James's action was perhaps the most extreme manifestation of a widely held analysis of the Faldo character: too selfish, too single- minded, he is not a team player. It is an observation which infuriates him.

"Course I was," he smarts. "Everyone assumes that I was somehow on my own. Listen, I played more matches, won more points in singles, and I think I've won more points in foursomes as well; you can't be a bad team player with a record like that. It's the classic story: I had one bad match with David Gilford which I got labelled for. But I played 40-odd other matches."

It was, he says, at the Ryder Cup that a different Nick Faldo - the real Nick Faldo - was in evidence in and around the locker room."For that one week you'd take your barriers down, you'd see something in a guy's swing and you'd help them, suggest they try this, do a bit of that," he says.

"Normally it'd be, ah, I've got him, he's shanking it. But that week, as a team, you wanted everyone to be at their absolute best. I wanted that guy to win points as much as I wanted to win points. Plus, you put extra pressure on yourself because there's something about playing for a team, you just don't want to screw up for the other guy. I think, on and off the golf course, I've done a bloomin' good job."

A good enough job, indeed, to merit his chance as captain. He has certainly been planning what he would do if he were to inherit Sam Torrance's role at the end of this year's match.

"I've got lots of ideas. I don't want to give them away - the Americans would steal them," he chuckles. "And I don't want it to look as though I'm trying to undermine Sam. But I have ideas, I'd get the team to prepare differently, I've got my own views on the psychology of it. I could bring a pretty good package, put it that way."

And would one of them include picking himself and playing?

"Sure I want to be out there," he says. "Playing well at the US Open this year, I was thinking, yeah, I can play well against these guys. Yeah, I'd have to admit that I'd love to be there. Nothing beats that feeling. But you can't do both, no you can't, no it couldn't happen."

Not even if you are a team player like Nick Faldo.

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