Fortune not swinging Faldo's way

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Golf

GUY HODGSON

reports from Shinnecock Hills

Nick Faldo, perceived by most Americans to be a threat at the US Open, remained that way yesterday, although whether the threat was an early departure from Shinnecock Hills or to the front-runners remained open to conjecture.

He shot four bogeys for a two-over-par 72 in the first round yesterday to trail the leader, Nick Price, by six strokes. Only the fact that he scored relatively well despite playing so indifferently proved a consolation.

"I got stuck," Faldo said. "My left shoulder was going up instead of round and I hit too many bad iron shots. I don't know why it happened, I was swinging fine in practice. I managed to get one or two shots back and maybe 72 is not too serious."

Faldo had arrived in South-ampton 10 days early to prepare for the tournament he describes as his No 1 goal in golf, but yesterday Shinnecock had become a mystery to him. Instead of being the Briton who thrived in conditions more Scottish than American, he had a bemused demeanour that suggested he had never seen a links before.

In his first 12 holes he failed to find the green in regulation eight times, and this is a man whose iron play normally has the solidity of forged steel. It was not even as if the weather was buffeting his swing and clouding his shot selection. Shinnecock can be malicious when the wind blows, but yesterday the sun was cooled by a gentle breeze that made the day more pleasant, rather than more difficult.

The first sign all was not well with the world No 3 arrived at the third. Perfectly positioned in the middle of the fairway on the 453-yard par four, his approach sliced off his four-iron, falling into light rough short and to the right of the green. His chip left him a putt of 10 feet which slipped by the hole.

A wedge to three feet at the eighth repaired that damage, but Faldo had needed to hole seven-feet putts at the sixth and seventh for his pars, so it was not a huge surprise when he started to throw shots away round the turn.

A 25-foot birdie putt at the par-four 415-yard 15th recaptured some of his momentum which would have carried him all the way to a one-over-par score had his attempt from six feet not slid past the hole at the last.

That was a similar story to Price's visit to the 18th, although a miss from four feet deprived the Zimbabwean of a course record-equalling 65. His ball appeared to be heading for the right side of the hole, but at the last moment it veered away.

Price, who led the 1987 winner, America's Scott Simpson, by a stroke, was hardly dismayed. "I wasn't aware of the record," he said, "but it felt like I shot a course record. Break 70 here and you have played your socks off. This is a very, very hard course."

Price, winner of the Open Championship at Turnberry and the US PGA Championship last year, was going steadily at one under until the last five holes, when he produced three birdies where most players were struggling to maintain par. "I've been playing well for the last three weeks," he said, "but my putter hasn't been working." Yesterday it was back in full production.

Which was the opposite of Bernhard Langer, who was reined back by his play on the greens. "I didn't make a putt of more than five feet all day," the German said after a 74. "The back nine here is the toughest I've ever played."

Langer arrived here weary but in outstanding form after winning his last two tournaments, the PGA Championship and the Hamburg Open. He carried on where he had left off with a birdie at the first, but his hopes crash- landed into the thick rough at the third from where he emerged with a double-bogey six. From there it was an uphill struggle all the way back, scattering further shots at the fourth, 12th and 14th in the process.

Colin Montgomerie has been the best-placed European at the US Open for two of the last three years, and yesterday appeared to be heading that way again. The Scot carded a 71 - along with Britain's Mark Roe and Sweden's Olle Nordberg - which was a better round than the score suggested, because he had birdie opportunities on eight of the back nine.

What betrayed him were dropped shots at the two par fives and on the eighth, the shortest par four. "I'm disappointed because I bogeyed the three simplest holes," Montgomerie, who lost in a play-off last year, said. "I made three mistakes and you can't afford to do that here."

Certainly Jose-Maria Olazabal could have done without a few yesterday. The Spaniard bogeyed the first five holes en route to an outward six-over- par 41, so it marked a massive improvement that he came home in 32. Even so he will be wary, - like his compatriot Seve Ballesteros and Britain's Barry Lane, who both shot 74 - of the cut.

US OPEN FIRST-ROUND SCORES

(US unless stated,

*denotes amateur)

66

N Price (Zim)

67

S Simpson

68

P Mickelson, G Norman (Aus)

69

J Maggert, F Zoeller, B Glasson, S Lowery, B Tway, M Ozaki (Japan)

70

G Hallberg, J Haas, V Singh (Fiji), J Cook, T Watson, C Byrum, C Tidland*, C Zambri, C Perry, N Lancaster, T Lehman, L Janzen, M McCumber, C Strange, T Kite, G Bruckner, J Gullion, D Duval

71

S Stricker, T Tryba, O Uresti, D Quigley, B Bryant, J Gallagher, J Daly, B Britton, M Briskey, H Sutton, M Roe (GB), B Jobe, B Ogle (Aus), O Nordberg (Swe), C Montgomerie (GB), B Faxon, J Nicklaus

72

D Martin, M McNulty (Zim), F Nobilo (NZ), D Love III, C Pavin, N Faldo (GB), B Crenshaw, I Woosnam (GB), J Courville*, J Sluman, S Verplank, B Andrade, B Hughes (Aus), M-A Jimenez (Sp), D Waldorf, D Edwards, T Hobby, S Elkington (Aus), P Jacobsen

73

B R Brown, B McCallister, P Goydos, E Romero (Arg), B Porter, E Meeks, D Frost (SA), L Roberts, T White, B Mogg, J McGovern, G Boros, M Gogel, L Mize, J-M Olazabal (Sp), B Burns, P Azinger

74

B Vaughan, A Magee, D Gilford (GB), B Langer (Ger), P Stewart, E Els (SA), T Woods*, T Roddy, D Phillips, P Jordan, M Hulbert, G Koch, M Schuchart, R Alarcon (Mex), J Huston, B Lane (GB), P-U Johansson (Swe), S Ballesteros (Sp), M Calcavecchia, J Mahaffey, S Hoch, R Floyd

75

M Standly, R Fehr, M Springer, C Marseilles (Can), F Marrello, M Muehr, K Young, M Heinen, C Beck, H Irwin, J Connelly, J Maginnes, A North, D Morland (Can)

76

F Funk, M San Filippo, K Perry, J Chaffee, K Mitchum, W Grady (Aus), B Murchison, R Gamez, D Walsworth, I Baker-Finch (Aus), G Day

77

F Allem (SA), P Moore, F Couples, J Estes, T Armour, S Hobday (SA)

78

S Pate, T Herron, L Tedesco, C Dennis, J Hulbert, B Elliott

79

C Stoops, R Cramer

80

A Armagost, B Estes

82

J Sanchez, J Snyder

86

S Tyson

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