Golf: Faldo falters on final holes

Click to follow
NICK FALDO was ready to astound Gary Player today by making the cut in the Players Championship before a poor finish to his opening round of 71 at the TPC of Sawgrass. The South African joined in the criticism of England's six-time major champion earlier this year by saying: "He used to be one of the greatest players in the world but the guy can't play at all now. When he makes a cut, I am astounded."

Faldo comfortably lived down to that assessment previously this season by only making one cut in the five strokeplay tournaments he has played and falling to 87th in the world rankings. He was an aggregate 24 over par and his only five-figure cheque came when he was knocked out in the first round of the Andersen Consulting World Matchplay by Tiger Woods.

In South Africa, Mark McNulty described Faldo as hitting the shots of a 24-handicapper. Faldo's response, apart from practising even harder with Chip Koehlke, was to record a TV commercial for Adams Golf in which his opening gambit is: "I've heard my touch has gone and perhaps my time has past."

Faldo went to the turn in 32, the best of the day, with four birdies, including three in a row from the seventh. He dropped a shot at the 10th but his putter - the one he used to win the Masters in 1989 and '90 - initially proved equally effective at saving par on the back nine. But then he three-putted the 17th and failed to get up and down from 50 yards short of the green in two at the last.

The disappointing finish meant Faldo has still to break 70 after 13 rounds this season. "The way I have scored recently, I'll take a 71 around this course," Faldo said. "Four rounds of 70 will not be far away from winning this tournament."

Alongside Jesper Parnevik as the leading European, Faldo was three behind the early leaders, the Open runner-up Brian Watts and Bob Estes. Watts's 68 was particularly admirable since he was four over for his first three holes, which included a triple bogey eight at the 11th.

David Duval, in his first tournament for four weeks, scored a 69 and Woods a 70, which, surprisingly, was the world No 1's best effort in nine rounds on this course. Colin Montgomerie matched par, a score he was pleased with considering the Scot was out in the afternoon. "With greens this hard and the rough as it is, it is like playing in the Masters and the US Open at the same time," Monty said. "That is a very, very difficult combination."

The round also represented a good test of his concentration since he was playing alongside two golfers who combined for a total of 20 over par. John Daly scored an 83 and Andrew Magee an 81, including a nine at the par-three 13th. "I hit a good shot to five feet there and, after a long wait, I did well to hole the putt," Monty said.

Lee Westwood was one shot better than his opening effort last year. Then, on his debut, the 25-year-old went on to finish joint fifth after a first round 74. If steadiness was a feature of his 73 this time, luck was not.

Westwood has yet to find his best form and at such times luck is not often a golfer's friend. His only drive that was off line, at the fourth (his 13th after starting at the 10th), left him in an unkempt, overgrown patch of rough next to a sprinkler head.

"I could hardly see the ball," Westwood said. "It was just 12 feet off the fairway but I could only move the ball 15 yards. It is frustrating when they prepare a course as good as this and there is one unprepared patch and I managed to find it."

A double bogey six took Westwood back to level par after birdies at the second and the 11th, both par-fives, and he dropped another shot at the ninth. After reporting his putting as "very poor", he added: "With an even break, I'd have been three shots better off and if things had gone my way, it could have been five or six under."

Bernhard Langer was alongside Westwood on one over thanks a double bogey at the last, but there were disappointing days for Seve Ballesteros, the newly inducted member of the Hall of Fame, who had a 76, Darren Clarke, whose frustrations continued with a 77, Jose Maria Olazabal with a 78 and Ian Woosnam with an 80.