GOLF : Americans take early advantage

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Though the Nestl Invitational this week offered a showcase for the best international golfers, it was the Americans who dominated the leaderboard in the first round. There were just two non-Americans who broke 70 yesterday, both members of the US tour - Sweden's Jesper Parnevik, who shot 67, and Zimbabwe's Mark McNulty, with a 68 yesterday.

The lead was held by the Texas golfer Mark Brooks, who shot a 30 on Bay Hill's back nine to finish with a seven-under-par 65. Brooks was two strokes ahead of the four players tied for second at 67 - Parnevik, Billy Andrade, Rick Fehr and Steve Stricker. The group tied one stroke further back was more distinguished - McNulty, Fred Couples, Fuzzy Zoeller, Loren Roberts and John Daly.

Aside from Parnevik, three other Europeans broke par, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam and Bernhard Langer all shooting one-under-par scores of 71. Faldo said after his round that he hit a lot of good putts that finished very close without actually dropping, but he was troubled by the fact that he kept pushing his drives.

Colin Montgomerie made a brief appearance among the leaders after notching birdies at three successive holes on the front nine, the sixth, seventh and eighth, to get to three under for the tournament. As it turned out, after the eighth hole he hit just one fairway, and that one not by much.

"Pathetic," was Montgomerie's verdict. "That's the general comment on that round of golf. I just frittered it away. I haven't made a cut here in three years. This is number four and I'm struggling already. Pathetic."

The two Spaniards, Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, as well as the Scot Sandy Lyle, finished with scores of 75.

For Parnevik, this is his best round of the year. Part of the reason, he explained, was that he was first alternate into this tournament and found out he was in on Monday night. "This is like a bonus week for me. I'm a bit more relaxed I guess, and not trying to force things to happen the way I have been this year."

Part of the reason for Parnevik's urgency this year is that winning an American golf tournament is the only way he can get into the Masters. The tournament committee at Augusta National invites the top 24 finishers from the previous Masters, the top 16 from the US Open, the top eight from the USPGA, but just the top one from the Open Championship, which is why Parnevik's runner-up finish to Nick Price at Turnberry failed to earn him a place in the Masters.

NESTLE INVITATIONAL (Bay Hill, Orlando; US unless stated): 65 M Brooks. 67 J Parnevik (Swe), R Fehr, S Stricker, B Andrade. 68 J Daly, F Zoeller, F Couples, L Roberts, M McNulty (Zim) J Carter. 69 B Lohr, P Stewart, M McCumber, B Faxon, M Heinen, B Glasson, D Love III. 70 P Jacobsen, T Lehman, D Edwards, D Forsman, J Gallagher, S Simpson, M O'Meara, L Nelson, F Funk, R Black, D Pooley. Selected: 71 N Faldo (Eng), I Woosnam (Wal), B Langer (Ger). 73 C Montgomerie (Sco).