Faldo fails to profit from birdie collection

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Nick Faldo has never made so many birdies in the first round of the US PGA Championship, yet he still failed to take a decisive short cut around Valhalla yesterday. In what turned out to be a marathon round in oppressive heat, Faldo shot 69, three under par. It included eight birdies and five bogeys.

Faldo, the Masters champion, teed off with Steve Jones, the US Open champion, and Tom Lehman, the Open champion, at 8.41am, by which time the dew had been burnt off the course. They finished a shade over five hours later, a slow pace by any standards. There was a brief hiatus at the second hole where the caddies of Jones and Lehman were reminded that, under a local rule, they were not allowed to wear shorts on the course. What they needed, given the amount of perspiration in evidence as the temperature climbed towards 100 degrees, was a snorkel. Jones and Lehman were told by US PGA officials that if their caddies did not wear trousers they would be escorted off the course by security guards.

Those in authority believe that the sight of caddies bearing white knees and purple ankles would do nothing to enhan- ce the pure image of the old game and therefore shorts are generally proscribed. Yesterday Scott Jones and Andy Martinez, the caddies of Jones and Lehman, were making a point: Why should Fanny Sunesson, Faldo's Swedish caddie, be allowed to wear culottes? The caddies duly complied with the dress code and normal service was resumed.

It is disgustingly sticky here and anybody, players or caddies, should be allowed to wear shorts if they so choose. The alternative is that people (especially caddies, who have to lug bags around weighing in excess of 30lb) are walking around looking as if they had just emerged from beneath Niagara Falls.

Faldo, three Opens and three Masters to his name, made the perfect start with birdies at the first and second holes but it was the beginning of an erratic round. Fourth behind Lehman in the Open at Lytham last month, Faldo identified his weakness in Lancashire as poor putting in the final round.

He is using a new putter here with a copper head but when he putted on the third hole he gave the impression that the club was made of balsa wood. From around 30 feet he left his first putt five feet short and then missed that one to record a bogey four. While Faldo had three putts at the third, two players were not required to putt at all. The third is 199 yards to an elevated green which is preceded by a creek called Floyd's Fork. Steve Lowery and George Bowman both had holes in one there yesterday morning.

Faldo went to the turn in a level-par 36, gaining a birdie three at the sixth and bogeys at the eighth and ninth. He failed to birdie the 605- yard seventh but picked up a stroke at the 10th. It developed into a most un-Faldo-like round. The Englishman had bogeys at the 12th and 13th and finally gained a level of consistency from the 14th.

He birdied the 14th, the last of the four par-threes, hitting his tee shot to within five feet of the flag, and it was the beginning of a brilliant end. He picked up further strokes at the 15th and 16th, missed a good chance at 17 but had another birdie at the 18th.

"I had a nice run in and that was really great," Faldo said. "Because of the heat you tend to lose concentration and you make some silly mistakes. But the fact that I made a lot of birdies has got to be important. Although the fairways are fairly generous you still have to drive the ball well. If the greens become crusty it will be very difficult. You've just got to keep plugging away while your brain's cooking."

Despite his rollercoaster round, Faldo was only two strokes adrift of the early leader, Steve Elkington, and one behind Mark Brooks. The 35- year-old Texan is having a successful season and at Royal Lytham was joint fifth, a place below Faldo. Brooks went to the turn in 36 but came home in 32, reeling off four birdies in a row from the 10th.

Elkington, the defending champion who defeated Colin Montgomerie in a sudden-death play-off in Los Angeles 12 months ago, also made progress over the back nine, coming home in 33. His 67 included five birdies and one bogey, at the short 14th.

John Cook matched Faldo's 69 but he picked up most of his strokes on the front nine, going out in 33. Cook, the runner-up to Faldo in the Open at Muirfield in 1992, has had an extraordinary season. His form at the start of the year was so wretched he contemplated retirement from professional golf. He withdrew from the Open Championship but then won two tournaments on the US Tour in three weeks. He did not do a lot of homework for the US PGA - he took his family to the Olympic Games.

Faldo was fortunate. A thunderstorm halted play in mid-afternoon with the majority of the field of 150 still to complete their rounds.

USPGA CHAMPIONSHIP (Louisville, Kentucky) Early leading first-round scores (US unless stated): 67 S Elkington (Aus); 68 M Brooks, N Price (Zim); 69 D Edwards, J Cook, N Faldo (GB), S McCarron; 70 P Azinger, W Wood; 71 P Burke, D Frost (SA), A Cejka (Ger), T Herron, T Lehman, R Mediate, M O'Meara; 72 G Morgan; N Henke, J Haas, J Sluman, B Faxon; 73 S Ingraham, L Rinker; C Strange, D Waldorf; J Sindelar, B Langer (Ger), S Stricker, L Nelson, J Parnevik (Swe); 74 P Arthur, W Grady (Aus); 75 C Anderson, B Lohr, B Andrade, D Ogrin, N Ozaki (Japan), S Jones, M Campbell (NZ), B Tway; 76 G Waite (NZ); 77 S Schneiter; J Nicklaus; 82 M Caporale. Withdrew: J Mahaffey.

Caddies' short shrift, page 23