Golf: Duval takes a grip in the rain

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The Independent Online
DAVID DUVAL'S preparations for next week's US Masters went awry yesterday. It was not so much the early morning fog which delayed play in the first round of the BellSouth Classic for two hours, more that once visibility had been regained the saturated nature of the TPC at Sugarloaf course became apparent.

Just as many on the US tour have been complaining about the hard and fast nature of the greens around the circuit this season, Mother Nature took things into her own hands with Wednesday's rain, which continued throughout the night. Soft and receptive, the greens were back to how most of the pros prefer them. Duval was as ready as anyone to take advantage and after going to the turn in one under par, he hit birdies at the 10th, 11th and 12th.

But the conditions were the exact opposite of what the new world No 1 was hoping for with Augusta in mind. "It is a scheduling thing more than anything else why I decided to play here," Duval, a graduate of nearby Georgia Tech University, said. "But if you are going to play the week before Augusta, this is a great place to play. You have the big, undulating greens and they will be quick."

Instead, Duval had to adjust to a slower pace after coping with the granite- like surfaces last week at the Players' Championship and which will again be a feature at the Masters. Conditions at Sawgrass, the US tour's headquarters where Duval's winning score of three under was the highest in the 18 years the event has been played there, were too much for some players. A players' meeting during the event appointed a committee to look at the way courses are set up.

"The feedback we got before was to make the greens harder and faster," Davis Love, a member of the US tour's policy board, said. "Now, guys are going back the other way, saying they're too firm and fast. No matter what you do, you can't make everybody happy."

While Duval seeks his first major championship next week, his father, Bob, who recorded his maiden win on the Seniors' Tour in a remarkable double for the Duval family on Sunday, could get there first. Bob plays in the Tradition tournament, the first major on the Seniors' circuit, this week and, after watching his son for the first two days at the Masters, the PGA Seniors' Championship in two weeks' time.

"If I could win a major before David, it would be great," said Bob Duval, who lost $100 (pounds 64) to his son in a week of practice a fortnight ago. "Lately, he has been armed and dangerous every week."

Duval's biggest problem this week is coping with the affects of such an intense week. "Last week was so mentally taxing it felt like playing two or three tournaments," he said. "This week seems to be going so quickly. Getting ready to play was the hardest part. I haven't practised so much and I'll get away from the course as quickly as I can. You have to make sure you remain fresh and that you don't get to the point where you dread it all."

Quite when, or if, Nick Faldo will ever get to that point is anyone's guess. Prior to the event Faldo was as optimistic, in his words, as he has always remained throughout a slump that has seen him drop to 97th in the world, 21st in Europe and 11th in Britain. But at the sixth hole came a sign that there are lasting affects from his disqualification from the Players' Championship.

On Sunday, Faldo let Corey Pavin inadvertently talk him in to a wrong drop, an error which was only discovered on the next hole. On this occasion, Faldo's ball ended up in casual water. In taking a free drop, the ball came to rest on a line denoting an area of ground under repair.

With the option to play the ball as it lay or drop again, Faldo was about to play it when again a fellow player, Billy Andrade, intervened. Taking no chances, Faldo waited as the others completed the hole for a referee to arrive, who confirmed that the Englishman had acted correctly.

Faldo was one under after 11 holes, while Ian Woosnam did similarly while playing the course the other way round. Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal were among the late afternoon starters.