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Faldo Puffed Up Over European Surge

With European golfing history currently in the process of repeating itself, Nick Faldo has become one of its keenest observers. And the television analyst, now entering his seventh year behind the microphone, likes to think he was in some way inspirational to players now dominating the world rankings. 

The parallels with the early 1990s, when Faldo was in his pomp, are remarkable. For instance, when Martin Kaymer won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship last month, Lee Westwood and Kaymer were ranked first and second in the world, just as Faldo and golf’s more illustrious German, Bernhard Langer, were in April 1993. And after Paul Casey’s triumph in Bahrain, there were five Europeans in the top eight, precisely as things were at this time in 1991. 

“I did my stuff 20 years ago and it’s nice to know that some of the current crop were out there watching,” said Faldo. “Like Luke Donald at a few Opens and Ian Poulter at some Ryder Cups. European golf was big then, with five of us in the top eight in the world.”

In fact, Ian Woosnam, Faldo, Jose Maria Olazabal and Seve Ballesteros filled the top four places, while Langer was eighth. “We had a terrific run at that time and it was great to be a part of it,” the 53-year-old Englishman added. “Very competitive, which was important.”

Faldo, who has three Masters and three Open Championship titles to his credit, went on to suggest that Europeans have seriously good chances in this year’s major championships, which he noted will be played on quite diverse golf courses. His six to watch are: Westwood, Kaymer, Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and Casey.

“Lee looks capable of winning at any of the four venues, from Augusta National to Congressional, Royal St. George’s and Atlanta Athletic Club,” he said. “Not having made the breakthrough by now, however, will be concerning him more than his admirers might think. He’s had some chances, the biggest one obviously being Turnberry (2009 Open). There’s clearly a question mark there, which he has to answer.”

Turning to McIlroy, Faldo went on: “Rory obviously has the world at his feet. He can play any golf course. His technique is great; the swing is beautiful and, at the moment, he seems to be going nicely with the flow.

“Then there’s Poulter. He scared himself at Augusta last year with a couple of bad swings that stayed with him. But he had a great Ryder Cup and continued to play well toward the end of the year. So, he should be going into this season with plenty of confidence.

“Royal St. George’s should really suit G-Mac because it’s a course where you’ve got to move the ball. If it’s dry there, you may have to land the ball 40 yards short of some of the greens and then bumble it on. But working out the bounces will be second nature to him from his links experience in Ireland.

“I also like Casey’s chances, especially on long courses like Augusta and Atlanta. And what can you say about Kaymer, who is mega under the radar? He is so solid overall. A real talent. That’s six guys, and if they manage to get into contention, at least one of them could finish things off.”

While acknowledging the changes technology has made from his time, Faldo believes that certain, key elements remain the same. As he put it: “Your brain, your heart and your hands. That doesn’t change. They provide the X-factor which really counts at the highest level. 

“You stick in there, competing as hard as you can. And working the ball. I got to a point at one stage where I could shape the ball fractions, like five feet or 10 feet either way. In the majors, you can’t get away with being a one-dimensional player unless it’s sopping wet, which is rare. Even then, hole locations will be such that you’ve still got to do something with the ball. As a general principle, the guy who can work and shape the ball is going to be a better golfer.

“McDowell can do it. He likes to shape it with his own little golf swing. Then there’s his putting. I remember playing with him, six or seven years ago before I started the TV stuff. The thing that struck me was how well he putted from 15 feet. My goodness. What he did against Tiger (in the Chevron World Challenge last December) was unbelievable.”

He concluded: “I loved strategy golf; plotting my way around. That’s what’s so great about Augusta. Even with a wedge in your hand, you have to find a certain spot on the green to get the prime result. For me, being able to hit the ball north, south, east or west around the pin, just as I wanted to, was pure joy.”

Against this background, one imagines Faldo setting fairly daunting standards for his would-be European successors. He has known no other way. 


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