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Faldo sets James Ryder cup problem

Mark James looks increasingly likely to have to make the most difficult decision of his Ryder Cup captaincy this summer - whether to end Nick Faldo's record-breaking Cup career.

Disqualification from this weekend's Players' Championship in Florida is just the latest in a tale of torture for Britain's best-known golfer.

Unless he can turn the tide in the next five months the 41-year-old's fate will lie in James' hands, and he could well find himself a Ryder Cup spectator for the first time since 1975, the year he won the English amateur title at the age of 18.

Faldo, world number one for 97 weeks between 1990 and 1994, is down to an all-time low of 97th in the rankings.

A mere three years on from his memorable third victory in the US Masters - his sixth major in all - he is listed as a 100-1 shot for Augusta next week.

His confidence appears at an all-time low as well. On Saturday night, after an 83 which equalled his worst ever round in America, Faldo said: "I wish there wasn't a final round. I wish I could just pack up."

He did return for the closing 18 holes - but completed only six of them. Already 16 over par for the tournament, Faldo hit his ball into a palm tree and was disqualified for taking a penalty drop under the tree rather than at that point where he played the shot.

Playing partner Corey Pavin, another former major champion whose career is in crisis, accepted some of the blame for that. He advised Faldo that, although they could not see the ball to identify it, he did not have to go back.

"He talked me into it," said Faldo, whose mistake meant he was placed last and dropped another 10 places in the world rankings.

Colin Montgomerie is firmly convinced that a European Ryder Cup team without Faldo in it in Boston in September would be a weaker team.

But James' dilemma is shaping up to be that several others of his front-line stars will not be among the 10 who earn automatic places at the end of August.

Players like Jose Maria Olazabal, Bernhard Langer, Jesper Parnevik, Ian Woosnam and Thomas Bjorn have yet to make their presence felt in the qualifying race, although there are still five months to go.

Faldo not only has a record number of cup caps but also a record number of points won in the match with 25.

Partner Lee Westwood praised him for showing him the ropes on his debut at Valderrama two years ago, and in the last match in America, of course, Faldo's last-green victory over Curtis Strange enabled Dubliner Philip Walton to win the cup back.

But since then Faldo has become a shadow of his former self, has split from long-time coach David Leadbetter and from second wife Gill and American girlfriend Brenna Cepelak.

Victory with David Carter in the World Cup last November in New Zealand proved a false dawn, as did his start to the Players' Championship last Thursday.

Faldo was joint leader after nine holes at four under par but admitted after falling back to 71 that it had come as a shock to him.

A 75 followed, then the 83, then the disqualification. This week's BellSouth Classic in Atlanta has become an exercise in starting to put his shattered confidence back together.

If he fails in that the prospect of a third successive missed cut at the Masters since his brilliant win over Greg Norman there looms large.

If that happens then James will have to start thinking about the possibility of a side without Faldo. As a team-mate on seven occasions and as an observer at Valderrama he knows what Faldo is capable of - and he will be hoping that he does not have to put that in the past tense.

It was only in February that former great Gary Player, in a blistering attack, said: "The guy can't play at all now. When he makes a cut I'm astounded."

Player agreed with the widely-held view that Faldo has suffered "paralysis by analysis", placing too much emphasis on trying to find the perfect swing or perfect putting stroke.

Faldo can counter that by saying he has won more majors in the 1980s and 1990s than anybody else. But Ernie Els said two weeks ago that the game is now changing - that power men like David Duval and Tiger Woods are taking over.

If Faldo can prove him wrong it will probably be the greatest achievement of his career.

 

TRW