Golf: Price's quick start leaves time to spare

Golf: Zimbabwean never troubled by overrated Filipino as early conditions in World Matchplay favour Leonard
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FRANKIE MINOZA became the first player to face the harsh reality of the Andersen Consulting World Matchplay Championship. Minoza managed only 15 holes at La Costa before returning to the Philippines following his 4 and 3 defeat by Nick Price. If San Diego is a long way to come for a day trip, a cheque for pounds 15,625 was compensation for Frankie's farewell.

Minoza, ranked 57th in the world, won once on the Japanese tour last year. According to a statistical analysis by an American magazine, the 39-year-old is an example of a player ranked above his station thanks to the current system overvaluing performances in Asia, Australia and Japan.

Price, who chipped in for an eagle at the second, was never behind and won three holes in a row from the 10th to ease in front, his birdie at the 12th coming when he almost pitched in again from off the green. The Zimbabwean now plays Jeff Maggert, the American Ryder Cup player, who beat his compatriot Fred Funk by two holes. Price's problem then was what to do with the rest of his day.

"I can't remember finishing at 10.30 in the morning before," said Price, who finished fifth, three behind Ernie Els, at the Nissan Open on Sunday. "I am going to have to find a lot of things to do to fill the time but I am glad my good play from last week has carried through. If it had been strokeplay, I'd probably have had a 66 and be well placed in the tournament, but the nature of matchplay is that you start all over again every day."

Another to take advantage of the perfect early morning conditions was Justin Leonard. The former Open champion was two down to Miguel Angel Jimenez after only three holes but then won four holes in a row. At the par-five ninth, Jimenez hit a beautiful three-wood second shot to three feet, which Leonard conceded once he had visited a bunker and missed his eight-foot birdie putt.

But this proved the Spaniard's last inspired moment and Leonard ran out a 4 and 3 winner. "This was a long way to come for one day but Justin was six under par for the 15 holes and it was no disgrace to lose," said Jimenez. "I had a good start with two birdies in the first three holes but overall I played well, just not brilliantly."

Leonard, who halved with Thomas Bjorn in the Ryder Cup singles at Valderrama in '97 and lost to Craig Parry in the Presidents Cup last December, now plays the star of the International team at Royal Melbourne, Shigeki Maruyama. The Japanese player shocked American television audiences with his perfect 5-0 record in the Presidents Cup and he continued his mastery of the matchplay art by defeating Steve Stricker 3 and 2.

However, Maruyama's compatriot, Joe Ozaki, the younger brother of Jumbo who passed on the trip, lost to Phil Mickelson 3 and 2. Patrik Sjoland, of Sweden, did his Ryder Cup prospects no harm, both in terms of the points he will receive and impressing captain Mark James, by beating Jim Furyk 5 and 3.

Professional golfers do not usually start playing competitively until Thursday mornings, but this week half the field has not made it that far. Or, as a local TV breakfast show presenter, who seemed less than au fait with golf let alone the matchplay version, said "about half" the players will be going home each day.

Nor did the citizens of San Diego and southern California seem to grasp the fact that yesterday was the day to see 63 of the world's top 64 golfers - plus Nick Faldo - in action. By the time the weekend comes around, only four will remain. The gallery was far short of major championship proportions and any talk of the event, deserving of its place in the calendar as it is, eventually reaching major status was dismissed by the world No1, Tiger Woods.

"I don't see that happening," said Woods. "Golf is all about tradition and it is very difficult to incorporate a new event into what has been there for quite some time. It would be neat if it did happen but traditionalists don't ever want to see another major added."

Woods, incidentally, is again without his regular caddie, Mike "Fluff" Cowan, and has Brian Bell, an old friend, on the bag. Their record together is outstanding. "We have never lost a tournament together," Woods said. Bell was caddieing for Woods when he won the Southern Californian Amateur, a US Amateur Qualifying, the 1996 US Amateur, after which he turned professional, and the Buick Invitational at nearby Torrey Pines two weeks ago.

That victory certainly saw a return to the ultra-aggressive Woods who first turned pro in a blaze of glory and has since become more conservative under the influence of his entourage. "I would like to see Brian come out more often if his work permits," Woods said.

ANDERSEN CONSULTING WORLD MATCHPLAY CHAMPIONSHIP at La Costa, Carlsbad, California: Early results (US unless stated): N Price (Zim) bt F Minoza (Phil) 4 & 3; J Leonard bt M A Jimenez (Sp) 4 & 3; S Stricker lost to S Maruyama (Japan) 3 & 2, P Mickelson bt N Ozaki (Japan) 3 & 2, J Maggert bt F Funk 2 holes.