Faldo finds the form to close gap

US Open: European challenge gathers strength while a bullish Greg Norman enjoys the course
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Golf

GUY HODGSON

reports from Shinnecock Hills

As the notion was dawning that the so-called "European" US Open was a giant confidence trick sprung by the Americans, Nick Faldo appeared on the leaderboard yesterday. He, for one, has the opportunity to fight the Old World's corner in the thick of the battle at Shinnecock Hills this weekend.

He emerged from the anon-ymity of the chasing pack with a two-under-par 68, and after two rounds was five strokes behind the leader, Greg Norman. On a tough course like this one that margin is eminently closeable.

Faldo, hugely disappointed with his first-round 74, responded by playing the golf he was expected to at a venue which he had described as providing "the best chance I have of winning the US Open." On Thursday his words looked hollow as a fault in his swing removed his forecast advantage on a "British-style" course; yesterday he was much improved.

He announced his arrival as a potential challenger with birdies at the third, fourth 10th and 14th, and might have been even closer to Norman had he not bogeyed the last after driving into the thick rough.

"I'm heading in the right direction again," Faldo, who has never won this tournament, said. "My game is getting better and as the greens quicken now this will become a real strategy course. It was very tough out there and it's going to get tougher. I knew I had to make a move today and even though I hooked that last drive I'm pretty happy with my position. I've got nothing to lose. There's a free run at it."

Unlike Faldo (twice a Masters champion), Norman has never won a major in the US, but was bullish before the tournament and has done nothing to diminish his confidence since. "I'm very pleased with my patience," he said. "My game could be fine-tuned a little, but I'm very happy with the way I'm holding myself out there."

Norman had birdies at the second and third and although he dropped shots at the eighth and 10th, finished his round in spectacular manner. Just off the green, he chipped in from 20 feet.

Giving an example of his inner calm, he said: "When I bogeyed the 10th I said to myself: `Hey, just come back with a birdie', and that's what happened. I've been talking to myself and keeping patient."

His three-under-par 67 gave him a two-round total of 135 and a lead of two over second-placed Japan's Jumbo Ozaki, who shot 68 yesterday. He also has a four-stroke advantage over the first-round leader, Nick Price, who slid back with a 73.

"I love the course," Norman said. "I think this is the best US Open course I've ever played. The US Association haven't bastardised it like I have seen happen in some tournaments."

A course's worth is open to perspective, and Colin Montgomerie, for example, might not be so effusive. The Scot hit a four-over-par 74 to put his chances into the same category as a Briton winning Wimbledon. Indeed, he had an anxious wait to see whether his 145 total - 10 strokes behind Norman - would be good enough to make it into the final two rounds.

"I didn't drive well, didn't hit my irons, didn't putt or chip," he said by way of an accurate summation of his play, "and that's how you get a 75." Which proved he did not get his mathematics right either.

Montgomerie's confidence when it comes to America's principal tournament stems from his accuracy and length off the tee on courses where straight driving is usually the quality that defines the champion. The relatively generous fairways negated that advantage, however, and his shots were hardly radar-directed yesterday.

At the second, a par three of 226 yards, his tee shot found a bunker; at the fourth his drive landed in the rough; the 10th he went over the green; at the 13th he struck sand again. He was deviating from the straight and narrow like a recidivist.

Yet if his woods and irons were unreliable, the putter was his chief tormentor. In the first round he had squandered birdie opportunities at eight of the last nine holes, so when he missed another at the third yesterday, the disappointment was almost too much.

He looked at the ball as it dribbled past the hole as if he could not believe his eyes, half sinking to his knees. Then, turning to his caddie, Alastair McLean, he exclaimed: "How did it do that? It had to break right."

To compound his misery, he also received a warning for slow play from Michael Bonallack, the secretary of the Royal and Ancient, on the sixth fairway. Bonallack, acting as a rules official here, spoke to Montgomerie and his playing partners, Tom Lehman and Phil Mickelson, after they lagged 12 minutes behind schedule.

They caught up, but in Montgomerie's case it was only physically, not numerically, and at the last his problems got worse. Faced with a 25-foot putt with a 15-foot swing, he was four-feet out with his first effort and then lipped out with his second. It was a chastened golfer who left the course.

If Montgomerie's confidence was bruised, however, Jose-Maria Olazabal had a more substantial problem. The Span-iard, who had a 70 for a three- over-par total of 143, was limping heavily, the result of a shooting pain between the third and fourth toes on his right foot.

"It is affecting my walking," he said, "and also my left foot because I'm leaning too much on it. I will have to have surgery, hopefully after the end of the season." The 1994 Masters champion had to have an operation on the same foot earlier this year, although the injury is unconnected.

"Anyone within seven or eight strokes of the leader will have a chance," Olazabal, who had been five over after five holes, said, "but I will have to shoot two good rounds. By that I mean two 68s. On this course, anything under par is a good score."

Ballesteros also had an injury problem, a painful back which contributed to a 73 yesterday and a 147 total that means he has missed the cut at the US Open for the third time in five years.

Another European to go home early was Britain's David Gilford, who had a nine, a seven and a six on a disastrous inward half of 44 that plummeted him from one over to 10 over. The American amateur, Tiger Woods, retired with a wrist sprain.

US OPEN SECOND-ROUND LEADERBOARD

(US unless stated,

*denotes amateur)

Third-round qualifiers

135

G Norman (Aus) 68 67

137

M Ozaki (Japan) 69 68

138

P Mickelson 68 70; B Tway 69 69

139

B Glasson 69 70; N Price (Zim) 66 73

140

D Love 72 68; N Faldo (GB) 72 68; C Byrum 70 70; M Roe (GB) 71 69

141

S Verplank 72 69; B Andrade 72 69; S Lowery 70 72; M McCumber 70 71; S Stricker 71 70; J Maggert 69 72; C Pavin 72 69; V Singh (Fiji) 70 71; B Langer (Ger) 74 67; J Sluman 72 69

142

J McGovern 73 69; N Lancaster 72 72; D Waldorf 72 70; T Lehman 70 72; S Simpson 67 75; L Janzen 70 72; T Kite 70 72; C Strange 70 72

143

B Hughes (Aus) 72 71; J-M Olazabal (Sp) 73 70; J Haas 70 73; I Woosnam (GB) 72 71; T Watson 70 73; M Briskey 71 72; B Crenshaw 72 71; F Zoeller 69 74; B Porter 73 70; M Gogel 73 70; B Jobe 71 72

144

G Boros 73 71; M A Jimenez (Sp) 72 72; B Faxon 71 73; J Gullion 70 74; E Romero (Arg) 73 71; F Nobilo (NZ) 72 72; C Perry 70 74

145

P Jordan 74 71; C Montgomerie (GB) 71 74; B Burns 73 72; C Pena 74 71; O Uresti 71 74; J Cook 70 75; P Stewart 74 71; H Sutton 71 74

Probable cut

146: T Armour; M Hulbert; B Ogle (Aus); B Lane (GB) 74 72; D Edwards; S Hoch; R Floyd; J Connelly; J Maginnes; G Hallberg; T Tryba; P Goydos; J Gallagher; B Bryant; J Daly. 147: B Estes; J Huston; S Ballesteros (Sp) 74 73; H Irwin; L Mize; F Allem (SA); M Standly; D Martin; B Vaughan; B McCallister; D Quigley; P Moore; E Els (SA). 148: R Gamez; O Nordberg (Swe) 71 77; P-U Johansson (Swe) 74 74; P Azinger; T Hobby; D Kestner; M San Filippo; M McNulty (Zim); E Meeks. 149: M Heinen; J Mahaffey; C Beck; J Julian; B R Brown; F Couples; C Tidland*; W Grady (Aus); J Courville*; K Young. 150: G Koch; D Walsworth; M Calcavecchia; A Magee; R Fehr; T Herron; D Gilford (GB) 74 76; T Roddy; B Mogg. 151: S Hobday (SA); M Schuchart; I Baker-Finch (Aus); F Funk; C Perry; D Frost (SA); C Zambri. 152: J Nicklaus; B Britton; T White; C Marseilles (Can). 153: S Pate; B Murchison; F Marrello. 154: R Alarcon (Mex); G Sisk; J Chaffee. 155: J Snyder; F Holland; M Muehr. 156: C Dennis; J Calabria; M Springer; C Stoops; J Estes. 157: A Armagost; K Mitchum; J Sanchez; L Tedesco. 158: C Kaufman. 159 S Tyson. 161: J Reeves; D Phillips. 164: B Bell.

T Woods*, L Roberts retired

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