Golf: Langer admires Tiger's talent on the greens: Woosnam strikes rich vein of form

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The Independent Online
WHEN he turns professional, Tiger Woods is going to make some agent very happy. Apart from the fact that he has a name with obvious appeal to a golf club manufacturer, the boy can play. 'He's got a great talent,' was the opinion of Bernhard Langer, who yesterday had his first view of a player who in America is regarded as a prodigy.

Woods, an 18-year-old amateur, shot a creditable 74 in the first round of the Johnnie Walker Classic at the Blue Canyon Golf and Country Club here. 'He's probably another Phil Mickelson,' Langer said. 'He's got an old head on young shoulders.' The German was paired with the American - they will play together again today - and if Langer learnt something of Woods then Woods learnt a lot from Langer, who opened with a 68 to appear on the leaderboard alongside a revitalised Ian Woosnam. Langer and Woosnam are two strokes behind Fred Couples.

Woods, who has an American father and a Thai mother, was christened Eldrick. His father Earl Woods called him Tiger as a tribute to Nguyen Phong, a South Vietnamese soldier with that nickname whom he fought alongside in Vietnam in 1970. By the time Tiger was three he had shot 48 over nine holes. 'The deal there,' he explained, 'was that every ball was teed up. I had to hole out on every green though.'

At eight he was club champion of the 2,156 yards, nine-hole Heartwell Golf Park near Los Angeles; by the age of 14 he had won five age-group junior titles; in the last three years he achieved a hat-trick of victories in the US Golf Association Junior Amateur Championship.

Nobody had ever won it more than once. He was the third black player to take the title. At the age of 16 he played in his first professional tournament, the Los Angeles Open, and missed the cut with rounds of 72 and 75. He has played in two more since then and has yet to make a cut.

He will attend Stanford University later this year on a golf scholarship and will not turn professional for four years. He hopes to play for the United States in the Walker Cup against Britain and Ireland at Royal Porthcawl next year. 'There's more to life than golf,' Woods said. 'I've always had to finish my homework before playing.' He is tall, slim, quietly spoken, similar, in fact, to a young Arthur Ashe. The recent earthquake in Los Angeles broke a water pipe at his home and woke him up. 'I hate earthquakes when they wake me up,' he said. 'It gets me kind of irritated.'

Yesterday Woods had a double-bogey six at the third hole and it included a one-stroke penalty, incurred when his caddie mistakenly picked up his ball. Nevertheless, on a steamy day over a long course (humidity 87 per cent) there were many professionals who would have liked Woods's score. 'He's got a superb short game,' Langer said of him. 'The only problem is that sometimes he's way off line with his long game.' Langer's game was impressive in all departments and, but for putts that lipped out, he would have shot 65.

Woosnam arrived in Thailand with a low opinion of his game. In December he finished an embarrassing 45 strokes behind Nick Price in the dollars 1m Challenge in Sun City and last week the Welshman was again hopelessly adrift, scoring 80 and 77 in Perth, Australia. On Wednesday here he complained of a bad back, but cured that by switching off the air conditioning in his room. 'I've found a bit of self-confidence,' Woosnam said. 'That's the best I've played for a long, long time.'

Woosnam, who enjoys a cigarette and a pint, has joined the keep-fit brigade by working out at the Energy Store club in Jersey. Under the personal supervision of Cheryl, he has taken up aerobics. 'When I play bad people think I'm having too many beers,' Woosnam said, 'but I can assure them I am trying and working harder than anyone.'

He covered the back nine in 33 with birdies from 12, 15 and 20 feet at the 12th, 13th and 14th and at the formidable 17th he chipped in for a two. 'I played the way I want to play,' he said. 'With me, it's all or nothing.'

Price, who had finished second and first in the two events he played in this season, withdrew without hitting a ball. He has tendinitis in his left arm. Greg Norman, who has a lung infection, struggled round in 75 while Nick Faldo finished with two bogeys for a one-over-par 73, seven strokes behind Couples. The American missed the half-way cut in the Desert Classic in Dubai last week. 'I got a little sloppy,' he said. 'I had to do something this week.'

JOHNNIE WALKER CLASSIC (Phuket, Thai) Leading first-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 66 F Couples (US). 68 B Langer (Ger), I Woosnam. 69 L Westwood, D Feherty, P Baker. 70 M Nasim (Indon), M Lanner (Swe), I Aoki (Japan), S Bottomley, C Montgomerie, Hsieh Chin-sheng (Tai), T Johnstone (Zim). 71 M Harwood (Aus), M A Jimenez (Sp), E Els (SA), K Eriksson (Swe), J Payne, C Espinosa (Mex), G J Brand, F Larsson (Swe), R Rafferty, P Senior (Aus), P McGinley. 72 I Palmer (SA), A Bossert (Swit), R Alvarez (Arg), P Walton, D R Jones, F Minoza (Phi), D Smyth, D W Basson (SA), A Sherborne, J Van de Velde (Fr). 73 S Flesch (US), G Webb (US), J McHenry, D Clarke, C Rocca (It), Choi Sang-ho (S Kor), A Hunter, G Orr, C Cassells, S Lyle, Lu Chien-soon (Tai), T Hamilton (US), S Taylor (US), N Faldo. 74 D Boulet (Fr), P Gunasagaran (Malay), M A Martin (Sp), P Fulke (Swe), P Way, R Karlsson (Swe), *T Woods (US), B Ruangkit (Thai), Kim Young (Kor), T Watanabe (Japan), M Murugiah (Sing), A Coltart, P Teravainen (US), D Ray, D Cooper, G Levenson (SA), A Forsbrand (Swe). 75 P Marksaeng (Thai), K Wentworth (US), G Evans, R Stewart (Can), E O'Connell, S Bowman (US), M Miller, R McFarlane, J Lomas, A Cejka (Ger), C Mason, G Norman (Aus), A Sher (Ind), B Lane.* amateur