Golf: No joke for Faldo as Lyle gets in the swing

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The Independent Online
In the land of 57 television channels, Nick Faldo admits to popping in a video of Only Fools And Horses or Fawlty Towers when he gets tired of surfing the tube. On a cloudless day that was a reminder of the attractions of becoming a Florida resident, Faldo's one-under-par opening round in the US Players Championship was less than vintage comedy.

Sandy Lyle, on the other hand, showed judicious use of the remote control to find the Golf Channel and catch a swing analysis of Tiger Woods, the flavour of the moment. It led Lyle, who has five wins in 17 years playing in America compared with Woods's three in seven months, to correct a fault on his backswing. The Scot is back in the swing of things after a 68 which left him two behind leader Steve Elkington, who mixed eight birdies with one double bogey.

It was 10 years ago that Lyle won what was then just known as the TPC and his record in the event is appropriately Lylesque. In 10 other appearances he has missed the cut nine times and finished tied for 74th place. "It is nice to get off to a decent start," Lyle said. "It is amazing that it is 10 years since I won this."

Lyle, who once said the only difference between the Players Championship and the British Open was "100 years of history", has been trying to keep his hands wider in the take-away and not to cock his wrist so early. He has also thrown away the long-handled putter he has been using for nine months. "I heard rumours they were going to ban them," he said.

As a result, Lyle collected seven birdies, including five in a back nine which also contained two bogeys and only two pars.Lyle's fellow Scot, Sam Torrance, who has lost half a stone on a diet of water, fruit and cabbage soup, found the water at the Stadium Course's signature hole, the par-three 17th with its island green, and took six. Torrance also had two double bogeys in his 78 and was disgusted with his performance. Ian Woosnam felt the same way after his 76. "I don't think I have ever played well here," Woosie said. "This is about level par for me here."

Despite dropping three shots in two holes, including a fresh air shot in the rough at the 13th, Colin Montgomerie finished with a 70, one head of the ill-humoured Faldo. "I turned a 67 into a 71," the Masters champion said. "That was fun." The frustration of the game for Faldo is in the fractions that separate his game from its best, as when he won the Nissan Open at Riviera four weeks ago. Having gone to the turn in 33, Faldo missed the green at each of the eighth and ninth holes to close his round with two bogeys.

"I played well, but I didn't putt well. It's as simple as that," Faldo added. His only other word was to confirm that the conditions early yesterday morning at the TPC of Sawgrass were "perfect". He was not the only one to fail to take advantage, with Woods matching his 71.

More than a dozen marshals accompanied the young sensation around the course, which is necessary for the non-golfing audience that he attracts. At a clinic Woods gave with Fred Couples on Wednesday afternoon, a schoolgirl, Darniese Arnold, who has never played golf, handed the child prodigy a written marriage proposal, receiving a hug for her trouble.

Elkington is on his third set of clubs in just over a year. The first set, with which he won here in 1991 and the 1995 USPGA, was stolen from his car in Houston while the replacements never made the journey from San Francisco to Thailand last month. Elkington is not worried since his latest set gave him a victory in the Doral three weeks ago.

PLAYERS' CHAMPIONSHIP (at Sawgrass, Florida): Early leading first-round scores: (US unless stated): 66 S Elkington (Aus). 67 F Zoeller, M Calcavecchia, T Lehman, D Edwards, R Cochran. 68 T Smith, J Haas, S Lyle (GB), T Purtzer, D Stockton Jnr, M Bradley, E Els (SA), L Mize, B Andrade, N Ozaki (Japan). 69 P Stewart, R Damron. 70 M Hulbert, G Day, R Gamez, B Watts, H Sutton, L Roberts, T Watson, B Faxon, M Ozaki (Japan), C Montgomerie (GB), T Tolles, J Wilson. 71 M Brisky, J Edwards, A Magee, K Triplett, N Faldo (GB), J Leonard, F Funk, T Woods, F Couples, S Simpson, J Sindelar, S Gump, C Parry (Aus), L Mattiace, M McNulty (Zim), M Reid, D Pooley, V Singh (Fiji), S Hoch, G Morgan, G Norman (Aus), D Waldorf, J Furyk, P Blackmar, K Gibson, B Langer (Ger), S Appleby (Aus). Selected: 74 C Rocca (It). 75 N Price (Zim), J Parnevik (Swe). 76 I Woosnam (GB). 78 S Torrance (GB).

Mist and near gale-force wind restricted play to just two hours at the Madeira Island Open yesterday.

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