Golf: Big prizes but no Price in paradise: The world's best have not all fallen for the attractions of the Johnnie Walker World Championship

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The Independent Online
A GILT-EDGED envelope drops through the letter box inviting you to spend a week in a tropical paradise (complete with tropical storms). Not only are all expenses paid but if you play like a holidaymaker you will be guaranteed a minimum of dollars 50,000 ( pounds 34,000) and if you happen to beat the other 27 players you return home for Christmas with a cheque for dollars 550,000. Nice work if you can get it. The trouble is not everybody wants it.

It is called the Johnnie Walker World Championship, it has a prize fund of dollars 2.7m and the sponsor's idea was to round off the year in Montego Bay, Jamaica, with the greatest players in the world playing for the greatest prize. Yes, it's another Mark McCormack promotion. 'In just two years the Johnnie Walker World Championship has become the climax of the golfing year in which all the leading players want to compete,' writes McCormack in the dollars 5 programme.

That is not true for a start. Greg Norman, probably the player of the year and No 2 in the world rankings, said thanks but no thanks. He is not short of the odd half a million. Norman, who won the Open Championship at Royal St George's in the summer, beat the other three major champions, Bernhard Langer (Masters), Lee Janzen (US Open) and Paul Azinger (US PGA) in a thing called the Grand Slam in California last month. He shot 71 and 74, finished one over par and won dollars 400,000 to take his earnings for the year past dollars 2m.

Nor did Nick Price, ranked four in the world, want to compete here. He and Norman have chosen to spend time at home with their families. Price is not short of a few bob either. He finished top of the US money list and the other day added a dollars 1m bonus by winning the Sun City dollars 1m Challenge. Some challenge. He won by 12 shots. Despite the fact that he is obviously playing the best golf of his life and despite the fact that there is a huge financial incentive here, he still did not think the price was right.

Nor did Payne Stewart. Rather than play here he has chosen to attend a wedding and it is not even his own. Norman and Price are managed by IMG, McCormack's company, yet even he cannot guarantee their presence at a tournament which he himself runs. Which only goes to prove that when you hold all the cards it is still possible to get a bum deal.

It is also possible that come Sunday the world champion could be Jeff Maggert or Brad Faxon or Seiki Okuda or Bradley Hughes. Three of the world's top five are missing, as are six of the top 15. An irony is that Curtis Strange has qualified by winning the Greg Norman Holden Classic in Australia. What, you may well wonder, as you throw another log on the fire, does a sponsor have to do to get a top class field?

Not all of this is because some players have simply grown too fat. Maggert came in for Azinger who less than two weeks ago discovered he has cancer. 'This is the hand I've been dealt and I am going to deal with it,' Azinger is reported as saying. 'I don't look sick, I don't feel sick and I don't plan on being sick.'

Thus only two of the major winners this season, Langer and Janzen, are here, but on the bright side we also have Nick Faldo, the world No 1, and Fred Couples. Couples won the inaugural championship at the Tryall club two years ago and Faldo won it 12 months ago, keeping Norman at bay in a play- off. Faldo said he was surprised that Price and Norman are not in Jamaica. 'The event has gained a lot of status very quickly,' he said. 'When Fred won he was the best in the world and when I won I was the best.' Note the past tense. Victory here again may make Faldo world champion in name only but it would provide a satisfactory conclusion to what, for him, has been a year of under-achievement.

'It's disappointing,' Faldo said, 'that I haven't won a major and I have to ask myself why.' The answer he and David Leadbetter, his coach, have come up with is that his technique is at fault. 'I've got to put it right, it's as simple as that.' Faldo was runner-up to Norman in the Open and third behind Azinger and Norman in the US PGA Championship at Baltusrol.

It was put to him that but, perhaps, for the rub of the green, he could have added two major titles to the five he has won since 1987. Not so he said. He did not get as close to the flag this year as he did in 1992 when he won half a dozen championships. 'My wedge play has not been as good. You've got to be around the hole all the time.' Apart from working on the technical aspect of his game in the new year, he will also put in extra hours in the gym to work on his fitness. From head to toe. 'I'm striving for improvement in every way,' he said.

Faldo has been practising here barefoot, a style recommended by Leadbetter in the interests of improving his leg action. Mizuno must hope that he does not do this too often. In addition to paying him to play their clubs, they are about to get him to play in their shoes.

(Photograph omitted)

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