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Golf: Jordan rejects new links

THE LAST time Michael Jordan gave up basketball, he unsuccessfully tried a second career in baseball. This time round, although he is playing plenty of golf, he is not tempted to take it up full-time.

"I had my taste of what it's like to be in the PGA atmosphere, and I don't think I want that," the former Chicago Bull said after the pro-am tournament preceding the Bay Hill Invitational in Orlando, Florida, on Tuesday.

It was the second time since he announced his retirement from basketball that Jordan teed it up with the professionals. He played three rounds in the Bob Hope Classic in January.

At Bay Hill, he played with someone with whom he shares a lot in common - Arnold Palmer. Both are among the most popular competitors their sports have known, both are always willing to play to the gallery. "It's always a treat to play with him," Jordan said. "If you ever try to pattern your career after someone, look at Arnold. I have a lot of respect for him. It didn't take much for him to get me down here."

The clowning started as soon as they walked on the first tee. Jordan had his picture taken with Palmer's grandson as Palmer looked on in mock disbelief. "You never want your picture taken with me, Sam," Palmer told him.

Jordan ripped his drive down the middle on the 18th, only to watch country singer Amy Grant hit her drive alongside him from the forward tees. "I think she outdrove you," Palmer said.

Jordan, who has not played since injuring his finger on a cigar cutter five weeks ago, said he was nervous on the first tee with about 2,000 people watching, but played better on the back nine. Along with his eagle, he made a par on the 18th (net birdie) to give his team a 59.

"In basketball, I have all the right skills and I perfected those skills," Jordan said. "Here, I'm in a game that you can't perfect it. You can lose it as quick as you get it."

In Phoenix, Arizona, Alison Nicholas, the only Briton to have won in America this year, returns full of confidence after a two-week break for the Standard Register Ping tournament, which starts today.

The 1997 US Open champion from Birmingham followed her win in the Hawaiian Open with an 11th place in the Australian Masters that included a career- best round of 64. It was a welcome bounce back to form for the 37-year- old, who struggled with illness for most of last season. "I put in a lot of hard work at the start of the year and it was great that it paid off so quickly," she said.

In January, Nicholas spent time in Florida working with English professional Martin Hall, the husband of tour player Lisa Hackney. "He has got me working on a few drills and it has really helped," she said. "I was twisting the club too much on the backswing and he's also helped with the short game."

Laura Davies, who set an LPGA record by winning this event four years in a row from 1994, is hoping that a return to a favourite venue will provide a vital spark before the first major of the season, the Nabisco Dinah Shore in California next week.

"I've been hitting the ball well all year but not scoring," said the player who has had one top 10 finish in six starts. "It's not so much depressing as disappointing and I just hope the putts start to fall this week."

Davies won last season's Tour Championship in November - ending a US Tour drought stretching back to this tournament in 1997 - and she reflected: "I really hoped that would spark a return to top form. But it probably came at the wrong time. We had a five-week break and some of the momentum was lost."

Liselotte Neumann defends the title while fellow Swede Annika Sorenstam, the world No 1, returns from four weeks skiing for only her fourth event of the year.

The richest prize in the history of the European women's tour will be on offer at the Evian Masters in France in June. A winner's cheque of pounds 102,500 is more than all but two players, Swedes Helen Alfredsson and Sophie Gustafson, earned in the whole of last season on the circuit. The total purse of pounds 689,000 - up by almost pounds 180,000 - makes the tournament the fifth most lucrative worldwide in the women's game.