Golf: Faldo strikes in the snake pit

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WHILE Nick Faldo and Boonchu Ruangkit shared the lead after the first round of the Johnnie Walker Classic, the Bill Fung fan club demanded a public inquiry. They have travelled from five continents to compete for pounds 550,000 at the Singapore Island Country Club and Fung had waited years for the opportunity of playing against the best in the world. His dream was destroyed in minutes.

Fung should have teed off at 1.15pm. He arrived on the tee at 1.21. He thought he was teeing off at 1.30. The European Tour rules state that any player arriving up to five minutes late will incur a two- stroke penalty. After that it is disqualification and the hapless Fung was banished from the championship without hitting a shot. What was particularly embarrassing for the 35-year-old Fung is that he is a professional in Singapore.

John Paramor, the tournament director, said: 'It was unfortunate but it appears he misread his tee time. He was at the course in plenty of time and two announcements were made to get him to the start, but obviously he didn't hear.'

It was an eventful day for Paramor. He had to act as a marshall to control the over-enthusiastic crowds who followed Faldo. They had to be reminded to stay behind the ropes. If Faldo was distracted he did not show it and his scoring from the 10th to the 18th was remarkable over a course that will increasingly take its toll, not least on the players' laundry bills. The temperature and humidity was in the nineties and a bottle of water per hole was par for the course.

Faldo started at the 10th, a hole which is the favourite haunt of a cobra. The snake is regularly fed. A happy cobra means the members are less nervous. On Tuesday morning here Faldo, who failed to get in a decent blow in the Desert Classic in Dubai last week, played nine holes with Chris Moody. 'He couldn't hit a cow's bum with a banjo,' Moody said.

However, a practice session with Mitchell Spearman, who works with David Leadbetter in Florida, did the trick. 'We changed a few things on the backswing,' Faldo said. 'It just shows you have to make constant checks.'

Faldo had his first birdie at the 11th where he hit a four-iron to two feet. He also birdied the 13th, 14th, 16th and 18th to reach the turn in 30. At the 16th he holed out from 60 feet. Over the front nine he scored 37 and had a six at the fourth where he twice found himself behind a tree.

Teeing off at 8.42am, Faldo enjoyed the best of the conditions. Greg Norman did not. 'It was very frustrating,' he said. 'The greens can drive you nutty. The ball can do anything.'

Norman, who stood at one over par after a 71, had a double-bogey seven at the 13th where he drove into the rough and then pulled a three-wood, his ball finishing behind a tree. He hacked out and came up behind another tree and when he reached the green he took three putts. However, Norman finished with an eagle three at the last, holing a putt from 40 feet.

The 37-year-old Ruangkit, who plays out of the Winsan club near Bangkok, joined Faldo on three under par as did Peter Senior, of Australia, and Darren Clarke, of Northern Ireland.

Ruangkit is a former professional kick boxer. 'Maybe I cannot beat Faldo,' he said, 'but I am very happy.' And that is more than can be said for the Englishmen Mark Davis, Paul Way and Martin Gates. Davis, who was fifth in Dubai, was disqualified for signing for a wrong score; Way retired because of a stomach upset and Gates withdrew complaining of heat exhaustion.

JOHNNIE WALKER CLASSIC (Singapore) Leading first-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 67 D Clarke, P Senior (Aus), N Faldo, B Ruangkit (Thai). 68 J Hawkes (SA), T C Chen (Tai), C Montgomerie. 69 M A Jimenez (Sp), Choi Sang-ho (Kor), R Mackenzie (Chile), T Hamilton (US). 70 Hseih Chin-Sheng (Tai), S Ginn (Aus), T Johnstone (Zim), F Minoza (Phil), P McGinley, S Grappasonni (It), C Rocca (It), B Lane, R Davis (Aus), S Richardson. 71 R Winchester, T Harding (US), R Chapman, G Turner (NZ), S Tinning (Den), R Allenby (Aus), C Mason, C McClellan (US), W Westner (SA), E Els (SA), S Ballesteros (Sp), C Parry (Aus), I Aoki (Japan), A Forsbrand (Swe), D Cooper, G Norman (Aus), I Woosnam, B King (Aus). 72 M Clayton (Aus), M Hallberg (Swe), M Aebli (US), P Teravainen (US), M Mackenzie, P Baker, I Palmer (SA), V Singh (Fiji), W Riley (Aus), G Day (US), O Sellberg (Swe), G Brand Jnr.