Golf: Norman's positive bunker mentality: World Match Play Championship

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The Independent Online
Greg Norman played one of the great shots of the day to shake off the American, Brad Faxon, but Anders Forsbrand failed to take a leaf out of the Australian's book and went out to Mark O'Meara in the first round of the Toyota World Match Play Championship here yesterday. As for Ian Woosnam, he cruised round the Burma Road, leaving behind a stalled Suzuki.

Norman, who has won this championship on three occasions, the last being six years ago, was two holes down against Faxon after 11 and three up after 23. In the last couple of years it has been a characteristic of Norman's to fail to apply the finishing touch and it began to go wrong for him here in the afternoon.

He lost the 27th, 29th and 30th holes and Faxon, twice a winner on the US Tour this year, had chances to edge ahead. Norman was handicapped by a pain in the neck (in addition to Faxon). It restricted his right shoulder turn, reduced the length of his driving and Faxon often sailed past him. 'I asked for a masseuse to meet me at the turn but she never showed up,' Norman said.

A turning point came at the 17th where Norman, despite a poor second shot, won the hole with a birdie four to a five. One up with one to play, he still had his work cut out. Faxon was on in two at the 36th, Norman in a bunker on the right, 50 yards from the flag. Norman came out to three feet and the hole was halved in fours. 'That is one of the hardest shots in the game,' Norman said. 'I'd be happy to do that five times out of 10. Towards the end it was a bit of a struggle. I'm just glad I won, not how.'

Forsbrand took his match to the bitter end and beyond. Nine times O'Meara held a one-hole lead but after 36 holes they were all square. The end came at the first extra hole where Forsbrand took three to get down from off the back of the green. He lost the hole and the match with a bogey five to a four. The Swede was left cursing an incident on the 16th in the morning. On his backswing he moved a leaf in a ditch and that cost him the hole for breaching a rule about moving a loose impediment in a hazard. Andy McFee, the referee, implemented the ruling despite protests from Forsbrand.

In contrast to the demands made on Norman and O'Meara, Woosnam was able to enjoy watching the play on television after an 8 and 6 victory over Norio Suzuki. Woosnam, who has twice been World Match Play champion, had 11 birdies in 30 holes and this amounted to overkill against his 40-year-old opponent, who was out of his depth.

'I don't think he played his best golf,' Woosnam said. 'He made it reasonably easy for me. I didn't feel I played that great.' Suzuki did not hit the ball very far and when he did it was usually too far right. 'I'd heard that Woosie had a cold,' Suzuki said through an intepreter, 'but he was in tip-top form.' This championship used to be restricted to eight players. With 12 they are struggling, in a game in which players can afford more than ever to pick and choose their tournaments, to make it truly world class.

With a Japanese sponsor, the field invariably includes a Japanese player. This week most of them are in the Japan Open, which leaves us with Suzuki. In the mid-1980s he stopped playing for two years because of a liver complaint. He is not even a blip on the world rankings. He is, however, pounds 22,500 better off as a first-round loser.

In the first quarter-final this morning Jeff Sluman, who put out Vijay Singh 4 and 3, plays the defending champion, Seve Ballesteros. 'I don't think Seve will be losing too much sleep,' Sluman, a former US PGA champion, said. Little does he know. Ballesteros is here en famille and his month-old baby son is disrespectful of adult sleeping patterns.

Sluman, runner-up in the US Open this year, went into lunch three up against Singh after an impressive round in strokeplay terms of 67 to 71. Sluman won the 16th and 17th holes and after lunch par figures were sufficient for him to build on his lead. Singh had five bogeys in seven holes and by the 27th was six down. 'I didn't make a match of it,' the Fijian said. 'I was really geared up for this but I hit the ball all over the place.'

The championship begins in earnest today when the top four seeds, given a bye in the first round, emerge from the practice ground. O'Meara, who is playing at Wentworth for the first time, meets Nick Faldo in the last of the quarter-finals. 'He's the best in the world,' O'Meara said, 'but he can be beaten.'

TODAY'S TEE-OFF TIMES Quarter-finals: 08.30 and 13.00 S Ballesteros (Sp) v J Sluman (US); 08.45 and 13.15 J-M Olazabal (Sp) v I Woosnam (Wal); 09.00 and 13.30 N Price (Zimb) v G Norman (Aus); 09.15 and 13.45 N Faldo (Eng) v M O'Meara (US).

(Photograph omitted)