Golf: Faxon plays it straight down the middle

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The Independent Online
The Ryder Cup lives on in the memory, but Brad Faxon, a member of the defeated American team, is determined to play down talk of grudge matches or revenge at this week's Toyota World Match Play Championship, as Andy Farrell reports from Wentworth.

It would be hard to describe Brad Faxon as being on a mission of vengeance at the Toyota World Match Play. But having beaten one member of Europe's Ryder Cup team in Darren Clarke, the American now has the opportunity to defeat the man who sealed his country's defeat at Valderrama, Colin Montgomerie.

Clarke, who lost 2 and 1, discovered that having an off-putting day against the so-called best putter in the world, even not performing to Faxon's usual high standard, still spelt defeat. Attempts to build today's encounter into a grudge match fared no better.

During the Ryder Cup, quotes from a newspaper interview by Colin Montgomerie about some of the US players were given prominence on American television. Observations that Faxon is not the straightest of hitters are nothing new, but reference to the American's divorce has brought outraged e-mails from across the Atlantic to Montgomerie's home page on the Internet.

Faxon, though, would not be drawn. "I've spoken to Colin. I know how things can be twisted," he said. "We get on well. I think he is pretty funny. It would be nice to win, but it isn't going to get the Ryder Cup back for America." As he got up, with the broadest of grins, he added: "But Monty's a jerk. Is that what you want?"

The man with the problem, or opportunity, of taking on Ernie Els today falls to Ian Woosnam. On a blustery morning, he produced the best golf of the first round with an approximate 68. It was only good enough for a one-hole lead over Jesper Parnevik, but after lunch he cruised to a 4 and 3 victory.

There may be no Tiger Woods at Wentworth, but there was a Tegra wood, or driver, on display. Woosnam was using one for the first time, after trying 14 different variations of the club in practice last week.

The new design, developed by a NASA scientist, has a shaft attached nearer the middle of the clubhead. The theory is that it prevents a typical hacker's slice. "It's to help amateurs to draw the ball," Woosnam said. "It's just what I need." The added benefit is extra length.

"I hit it so easy and it went a long way. It's been pretty depressing seeing these young guys hit it so far past you. I'm looking forward to the challenge of playing Ernie. He is not going to make many mistakes," the Welshman added.

Although everything pales in comparison with the Ryder Cup, there was not a great deal on the opening day for the gallery to get excited about. But the beauty of matchplay is that the state of a match can create drama. Yesterday's best contest was between Phil Mickelson and Frank Nobilo, who won at the second extra hole.

Nobilo had been four up after 12 holes, but the American fought back and the New Zealander found himself one down playing the last after he drove out of bounds at the 17th for the second time in the day. But when Mickelson lipped out from 12 feet at 18, Nobilo got a reprieve and sealed the match by hitting his tee shot at the short second hole to a foot.

The usual role at this event of Oriental Spice was this year played by Tsukasa Watanabe, a player ranked 169th in the world. What he really, really wanted was to become the first Japanese representative to reach the second round since Joe Ozaki beat Ben Crenshaw 7 and 6 in 1986. Unfortunately, Vijay Singh, last year's beaten finalist and rated 154 places above Watanabe, proved too strong and won 4 and 3.

TOYOTA WORLD MATCH PLAY CHAMPIONSHIP (Wentworth): J Parnevik (Swe) lost to I Woosnam (GB) 4 and 3; P Mickelson (US) lost to F Nobilo (NZ) at 38th; B Faxon (US) bt D Clarke (GB) 2 and 1; V Singh (Fiji) bt T Watanabe (Japan) 4 and 3.

Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, together again for the first time since winning the Novotel Perrier Pairs tournament two years ago, shot a four-under-par 67 in the first round of this year's edition of the event in Bordeaux to end the day three shots off the lead. Each pair plays a fourball on the first day, a foursomes on the second, a greensomes on the third and all players play as individuals on the fourth.