GOLF: Faldo to show his strength

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reports from Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

In what may be the strongest field ever assembled, two players are in such rich form that they appear to be on another level from the rest here at the Players' Championship.

Despite the field containingall of the top 36 ranked golfers in the world, and 46 of the top 50, the two hottest favourites are Nick Faldo and Peter Jacobsen.

The two men could not be more different in character, although Faldo, in his increasing Americanisation, is growing more and more like the jovial Jacobsen. With the exception of the minute or so he must spend concentrating on a shot, Jacobsen is a sunny and chatty presence on the golf course who loves joking with the galleries. Faldo's funereal on-course presence is, of course, well documented.

But both have re-dedicated themselves to their games this year. Faldo has left home for America - he has not been back since he left for Arizona in January.

Jacobsen, his game in a slump after losing a brother to Aids and his father to cancer, lost his card in 1992 and had to rely on invitations to play in 1993. But since working on his short game at the end of last year, he found success with two back-to-back wins, a second place to Faldo at Doral, and a third last week at Bay Hill.

Faldo had an uneven time on the West Coast, but came to Florida, won the first week and, in the last three weeks, his record is first, second and fifth.

"The big key has been that I stayed out here," he said. "After four weeks on the West Coast, and two weeks off, the important thing was that I stayed in Florida, spent time with the family, did plenty of practice, and never lost the feeling of playing."

n Barry Lane is hoping that a change of clubs - he has switched from Taylor Made to Mizuno -will bring a change of luck as he defends the Turespaa Balearic Open title in Majorca today.