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Golf: America warms to `new' Faldo

"It's the start of a new me," said Nick Faldo after the Northern Telecom Open here on Sunday, the combination of his smile and the tone of his voice a playful mocking of his prickly public image. Faldo was speaking after his first tournament as amember of the US Tour following a five-year break. Although he finished 25th in the tournament, nine strokes behind Phil Mickelson's winning aggregate of 269, and had been disappointed by his putting, Faldo heads for this week's Phoenix Open resolutely positive.

His attitude had been relaxed yet concentrated all week. In Thursday's opening round Faldo had trouble with a marshal on the ninth green, but solved it with good humour. When the man raised the `Quiet Please' sign above his head, the shadow crossed Faldo's putting line. He asked the marshal to lower his arm, then set up once again to putt. Just before Faldo was ready to strike, up again went the arm and across again came the shadow. The scenario had played itself out three times before Faldo changed histactics, amusing the gallery by saying: "I've only been in this country a week, maybe my English isn't good enough."

Faldo's work ethic and perfectionism have not made him a beloved figure in America and he once headed a list of the Tour's worst playing partners.

Though Faldo opted out of the US Tour five years ago because the rank-and-file American players refused to change the rules and lower the number of required tournaments to accommodate non-Americans, there has been no significant negative reaction to his return. In fact, it has been quite the opposite.

There is now near-universal recognition that Faldo's presence, as well as the arrival of Ernie Els and Mark McNulty on the US Tour this year, is good for the game in America. Paul Azinger said: "For those of us who played against him [Faldo] on the RyderCup, we're really glad to get more opportunities to go head-to-head. Plus, I think it would be a good thing for some of the younger players to see how hard he works. It might rub off on them."

NORTHERN TELECOM OPEN (Tucson, Arizona): Leading final scores (US unless stated): 269 P Mickelson 65 66 70 68; 270 J Gallagher Jnr 68 64 69 69, S Simpson 69 65 68 68; 271 B Ogle (Aus) 68 65 68 70; 272 J Furyk 69 69 67 67; 274 W Austin 68 69 70 67, N Ozaki (Japan) 68 67 70 69, B Tway 70 65 69 70, D Duval 67 70 67 70, T Kite 71 66 67 70, D Pooley 71 66 65 72.

European: 278 N Faldo (GB) 70 70 70 68; 287 J Parnevik (Swe) 71 69 74 73.