Golf : Faxon offers helping hand

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The Independent Online
Brad Faxon is the man Colin Montgomerie hopes will cure his putting blues at Augusta National this week. The two will play a practice round on Tuesday but the Scot should be careful about relying too much on any information received. "I'm going to lie to him," Faxon joked.

Montgomerie, whose game is based on the straightness of his driving, feels the wide Augusta fairways neutralise his advantage off the tee, which is accentuated at a US Open. Instead, his putting is shown up, as it was when Monty was paired with Faxon in the final round of the Players Championship, where the American finished fourth, his best result of the season.

"Along with Loren Roberts, Brad is one of the best at holing out on the US tour," Montgomerie said. Faxon admits that he can be a frustrating player to be paired alongside. "A lot of people, I think, get too much into ball striking," Faxon said. "They just want to play on the practice range. They get mad when I start holing everything on the greens."

After two rounds of the Freeport McDermott Classic, Faxon was three behind the half-way leaders Larry Rinker and the defending champion Scott McCarron. Jose Maria Olazabal, continuing his remarkable comeback with a second- round 67, was two further back. The third was delayed until late afternoon by a heavy thunderstorm.

On the opening day, Faxon took just 23 putts. On day two he slipped to 28, which is his average for the season. That puts him sixth in the putting statistics, while he is outside the top 100 in hitting greens in regulation and not in the top-140 in driving distance and accuracy.

Faxon, a 35-year-old from Rhode Island, has not won since 1992. Of his winless interlude, he said: "You finish eighth on the money list and think you really need to improve your driving to go forward. Rather, you should say, I've finished eighth driving the way I have and was not far away from a great year.

"If I start being like Nick Faldo and try to hit every shot on the fairway and hit every green, then I get ratty. That's not my game. I'm going to hit bad shots, but my putting is my strength."

Jack Nicklaus's English Turn course may not look anything like Augusta, but with the greens playing hard and fast for the first two days, approach play has to be just as accurate. Per-Ulrik Johansson and Costantino Rocca got the chance to leave early for the real thing, but Jesper Parnevik successfully battled a strong afternoon wind for an impressive 69.

Victory today will give the winner the last spot in the US Masters so all eyes are on Payne Stewart (two under after 36 holes) and Lanny Wadkins (six under). "It is not something I am thinking about," Wadkins said. "I've got things to do at home, like go to the dentist. I'd also need a place to stay in Augusta. But it would be a nice problem to have."

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