Golf: Cink's 65 puts pressure on leaders

OPINIONS HAVE always been many and varied about Jimmy Patino's Valderrama course. Nick Faldo once said "you have to play like God to break par here" and then Bernhard Langer shocked the club president and the course superintendent - they are the one and the same Patino - by scoring a nine-under 62.

It is a record that, like Langer's faith, will stand the test of time. Even with perfect conditions for yesterday's second round of the American Express World Championship, the best the world's leading players could manage was a 65 by Stewart Cink. Europeans have known the frustrations of the place for years, others are only just finding out.

"I have to say it is way too tight for golf," said Stuart Appleby after a 66. "Too much luck is involved. I have no idea how the members play it." Justin Leonard, after a 67, added: "You can put the ball in the fairway and still not have a shot at the flag. It's a game of inches on this course."

But few have eulogised about the cork trees lining the fairways quite like Cink after improving on his first-round score by 10 strokes. "The golf ball does not like it very much but these are some of the most beautiful trees I have ever seen," said the 26-year-old American. "They didn't cut down too many of them when they built this course and there is not much room out there. But I think it is the trees that make the course. If I could put three of four of them in my yard, I'd pay a million bucks." Fortunately for Cink, the first prize is exactly $1m (pounds 610,000), but Patino would be a reluctant seller. He does not need the money.

At two under, Cink found himself three behind the joint-leaders, Tim Herron and Chris Perry. Americans dominate the leaderboard, with six in the top eight. Vijay Singh, after a stretch of two birdies and three bogeys in five holes on the back nine, shared third place with Leonard, while Mark James, after a 70, was among those at three under in fifth place. The Ryder Cup captain, who at 46 years of age has enjoyed an impressive season without winning, had no doubts what he would do with the winner's cheque. "I would go out and buy a new stereo," James said. "My friends tell me mine is not good enough. I may go out and buy one anyway, bugger the expense."

Colin Montgomerie had a bad day on the greens and fell to level par with a 72. But with Sergio Garcia and Retief Goosen well out of contention, the Scot's only order of merit threat comes from Lee Westwood, who improved to two under with a 67.

Westwood needs to win before Monty has to worry and, like Tiger Woods, who was on the same score, the Englishman was happy with his position. Woods double bogeyed the short 15th with a wild tee shot but responded by birdieing the next two holes in a 69. "I don't think it's about local knowledge here," Woods said. "We're professionals. I know what to do, it is a matter of doing it."

Or not doing it, as in the case of Jarmo Sandelin marking and picking up his ball on the fifth fairway. Said Perry, his playing partner: "I turned my back and the next thing I heard was, `oh no'. I turned and saw he had his ball in his hand." Sandelin's explanation was that preferred lies are allowed regularly in Europe due to the weather. At Valderrama there is never the need. Patino makes sure of that.

n Davis Love, the leading alternate, will replace Payne Stewart, who died in a plane crash two weeks ago, in the Grand Slam of Golf in Hawaii later this month. Love will play Jose Maria Olazabal, while Tiger Woods faces Paul Lawrie in the $1m two-day matchplay event.

AMERICAN EXPRESS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP (Valderrama, Sp) (GB and Irl unless stated): Leading second round scores: 137 T Herron (US) 71 66; C Perry (US) 70 67. 138 J Leonard (US) 71 67; V Singh (Fiji) 67 71. 139 T Lehman (US) 72 67; F Funk (US) 71 68; S Hoch (US) 69 70; M James 69 70. 140 S Cink (US) 75 65; L Westwood 73 67; MA Jimenez (Sp) 72 68; D Toms (US) 72 68; T Woods (US) 71 69; P Mickelson (US) 69 71; N Price (Zim) 69 71. 141 H Sutton (US) 75 66; M Weir (US) 73 68; B Langer (Ger) 71 70; B Estes (US) 69 72; J Furyk (US) 68 73. 142 S Appleby (Aus) 76 66; R Karlsson (Swe) 74 68; JM Olazabal (Sp) 7369; C Montgomerie 70 72. 143 D Hart (US) 75 68; S Garcia (Sp) 74 69. 144 P Lawrie 76 68; R Goosen (SA) 75 69; D Love (US) 74 70; L Roberts (US) 72 72; J Sandelin (Swe) 70 74; J Maggert (US) 70 74. Selected: 145 J Van de Velde (Fr) 72 73. 146 D Clarke 79 67; S Elkington (Aus) 74 72; S Pate (US) 72 74; J Huston (US) 72 74.