Golf / The 57th US Masters: Faldo in the right form to make his own luck: The winner needs the rub of the green. Tim Glover reports from Augusta and offers his tips for the title

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WHOEVER wins the 57th Masters will need the rub of the green at some stage over the next four days but it is the cut of the fairways at Augusta National that has bemused most contestants here, including the favourite Nick Faldo.

The course measures 6,905 yards but will play considerably longer than that because the club has decided, for the first time to Faldo's knowledge, to cut the fairways in the direction of the tees, thus forcing the players to play against the grain of the Bermuda grass. With the run of the ball dramatically reduced, drives are 20 to 30 yards shorter and this in turn makes the approach shot that much harder.

It is unlikely to weaken the challenge of Faldo who is a genuine favourite on the grounds that he is not just a past master but the world No 1 by some distance. A year ago Fred Couples, a King Edward among couch potatoes, enjoyed a terrific run of form that culminated in his victory here and temporarily relieved Faldo of his world No 1 ranking.

It acted as a spur to Faldo who went on to have an outstanding year. The differences between the two players are considerable. While Faldo relishes the heat, Couples cannot wait to get out of the kitchen. 'I want to stay at the top,' Faldo said yesterday. 'I want to stick in there every week. I'm playing here for a Green Jacket not the prize-money. I want people to say God, I saw Nick Faldo play golf, not I saw Nick Faldo win dollars 247,000.'

Faldo has played sparingly this season. He won the Johnnie Walker Classic in Singapore and the arrival of a daughter forced him to revise his schedule in America. They named her Georgia and he says it has nothing to do with the state of Augusta.

Faldo shot 69 in the final round in New Orleans and it would have been even lower had his putting been as sharp as the rest of his game. According to David Leadbetter, Faldo is striking the ball better than ever. In practice here Faldo said: 'My good shots are very good and my bad ones aren't as good as I'd like. It's as simple as that.' Since 1987 Faldo has won three Open Championships and two Masters and it is arguable that he has a stronger chance of winning at Augusta National, a course for the connoisseur, than at a British links.

For one thing the competition is less fierce. Ken Schofield, the executive director of the European Tour, believes that Europe, in terms of its number of invitees, is still paying a price for not having major British winners in the Seventies and early Eighties. The other factor in Faldo's favour, of course, is that he is as familiar with the National as Red Rum. It could be argued that when he won here in 1989 and 1990 he had the rub of the green. Scott Hoch and Ray Floyd had one hand on the Green Jacket before capitulating to the Englishman on the 11th in sudden death.

Nick Price, another Leadbetter client, is an obvious danger to Faldo. 'He is on the kind of roll that Couples had last year,' Faldo remarked. Price was joint fourth with Faldo in the US Open at Pebble Beach last summer and the Zimbabwean went on to win the US PGA Championship in St Louis, his first major triumph, where Faldo was joint second. Price has maintained that impressive form and was a runaway winner of The Players' Championship in Florida last month.

'I still think I can improve,' Price said. 'I don't think I've reached my peak.' Eleven years ago Price stood on the 13th tee in the Open Championship at Royal Troon holding a three-shot lead. He turned to his caddie and said: 'That's it I've won.' That was tantamount to an invitation to disaster which duly befell him and victory went to Tom Watson. 'Maybe it was the best thing that ever happened to me,' he said. 'It teaches you humility. Had I won that day I probably would not have been able to handle success as well as I am now. I've worked hard to get to this position and I want to hold on to it.'

Greg Norman said of Price: 'He has gone to another level in his own mind. He has the right formula.' And what of Norman's state of mind? The Australian still only has one major title to his name, the Open at Turnberry in 1986. What happened to Price at Troon has happened to Norman time and again. He claims the experiences have not scarred him. 'Now I look at myself in the mirror and I'm getting the right answers,' he said.

It is possible that Norman and Ballesteros have not fully recovered from the denouement at Augusta National in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in at the 11th to win the Masters in a sudden death play-off. Ballesteros was reduced to tears and Norman turned white with the shock of it all. Neither are in the best of health here. Ballesteros has not played since a back injury forced him to withdraw after one round of the Majorcan Open last month. He has been on the massage table ever since and another with back trouble is Tom Kite, the US Tour's all-time leading money-winner. Kite, who did not even watch the Masters last year, was in enough discomfort yesterday to consider pulling out of the tournament. Norman is under medication for a variety of allergies, one of which is an aversion to a Green Jacket.

Couples also has problems. He said that this season, when he has found himself in contention, he has suffered dizzy spells and migraines. 'I've no idea what it is,' he said. 'During the TPC I was affected very badly. I had no idea where I was or what I was doing.' Couples benefited from the rub of the green 12 months ago when, in the final round, his tee shot at the 12th, the Golden Bell, seemed destined to land in Rae's Creek. Instead his ball confounded Newton's law on gravity and came to rest inches from the water. He secured his par and went on to win by two strokes from his nearest challenger, Floyd.

On the 18th green Couples was embraced by his wife, Deborah. It will not happen this week. During the summer of his dreams Freddie parted company with the blonde who was given to supporting her man with cries of: 'Way to go, Babycakes]' He left her at the Open at Muirfield last year and five months later she filed for divorce. He has to pay her dollars 56,000 a month and she is asking for three times that figure. It explains why this summer Freddie is spending less time on the couch watching TV and more on the golf course.

TEE-OFF TIMES

(US unless stated)

1.15 BST G Sarazen, B Nelson, S Snead; 1.30 G Brewer, D Ford; 1.38 G Hallberg, M Standly; 1.46 L Janzen, T Johnstone (Zim); 1.54 M Hulbert, G Morgan; 2.02 B Casper, C Coody; 2.10 M Calcavecchia, J Sindelar; 2.18 G Player (SA), H Irwin; 2.26 D Peoples, T Schulz; 2.34 D Waldorf, J D Blake; 2.42 J Cook, M O'Meara; 2.50 K Clearwater, F Funk; 2.58 M Brooks, J Huston; 3.06 A Palmer, *W Schutte (SA); 3.14 B Glasson, J Maggert; 3.22 B Andrade, J Haas; 3.30 S Ballesteros (Sp), P Mickelson; 3.46 B Crenshaw, *D Yates; 3.54 S Pate, B Faxon; 4.02 J Nicklaus, C Parry (Aus); 4.10 M McCumber, T Lehman; 4.18 C Strange, W Grady (Aus); 4.26 N Henke, D Pruitt; 4.34 A Magee, B R Brown; 4.42 C Beck, B Lietzke; 4.50 S Lyle (GB), L Wadkins; 4.58 I Woosnam (GB), D Love; 5.06 C Pavin, R Cochran; 5.14 F Zoeller, B Ogle (Aus); 5.22 P Azinger, S Elkington (Aus); 5.30 R Floyd, I Baker-Finch (Aus); 5.38 T Watson, *S Dundas (GB); 5.46 T Aaron, M Ozaki (Japan); 5.54 F Couples, *J Leonard; 6.10 N Price (Zim), J Sluman; 6.18 S Simpson, C Montgomerie (GB); 6.26 T Kite, J M Olazabal (Sp); 6.34 J Daly, D Forsman; 6.42 C Stadler, G Norman (Aus); 6.50 L Mize, R Zokol (Can); 6.58 D Frost (SA), A Forsbrand (Swe); 7.06 N Faldo (GB), P Stewart; 7.14 J Gallagher Jnr, N Ozaki (Japan); 7.22 B Langer (Ger), H Twitty; 7.30 B Gilder, M Carnevale; 7.38 D Edwards, G Sauers.* denotes amateur.

----------------------------------------------------------------- MASTERS RECORDS ----------------------------------------------------------------- Most wins: 6 J Nicklaus, 4 A Palmer. Oldest winner: 46 J Nicklaus 1986. Youngest winner: 23 S Ballesteros 1980. Best round: 63 N Price 1986. Best first nine: 30 J Miller 1975, G Norman 1988. Best back nine: 29 M Calcavecchia 1992. Best 36-hole total: 131 R Floyd 1976 (65, 66). Best 54-hole total: 201 R Floyd 1976 (65, 66, 70). Best final total: 271 J Nicklaus 1965 (67, 71, 64, 69); R Floyd 1976 (65, 66, 70, 70). Lowest final round to win: 64 Gary Player 1978. Biggest winning margin: 9 shots J Nicklaus 1965. Longest putt: 100ft N Faldo (2nd hole for birdie) in 1989. Highest score on one hole: 13 T Nakajima (at par 5 13th in 1978); T Weiskopf (at par 3 12th in 1980). Debut champions: 1934 Horton Smith, 1935 Gene Sarazen, 1979 Fuzzy Zoeller. Successful defences: 1965-66 Jack Nicklaus, 1989-90 Nick Faldo. Best comeback: Jack Burke Jnr came from eight shots behind in final round to win 1956 title. -----------------------------------------------------------------

FOUR CONTENDERS TO FOLLOW AT AUGUSTA NATIONAL NICK FALDO Age: 35. World ranking: 1. Record in Masters since 1988: Tied 30, 1, 1, tied 12, tied 13.

THE two-times Masters champion is the most formidable player of his generation and the man very few people want to be paired with. According to a time and motion study, the Englishman is the slowest performer in the world. Others just wish they could be as slow.

Recreation: fishing.

NICK PRICE Age: 36. World ranking: 3. Record in Masters since 1988: Tied 14, missed cut, did not play, tied 49, tied 6.

Bears a striking resemblance to Faldo. The Zimbabwean who lives in America and has a British passport won his first major championship when he withstood the challenge of, among others, Faldo in the US PGA in St Louis last year.

Recreation: fishing.

FRED COUPLES Age: 33. World ranking: 2. Record in Masters since 1988: Tied 5, tied 11, 5, tied 35, 1.

After Couples won the Masters last year, his first major, he went home and hid. He closed the door on his wife and his new life as a superstar. 'It got to be no fun,' he said. 'All the way up to Augusta I can honestly say it was a piece of cake. It just seemed very very easy.'

Recreation: watching TV.

DAVIS LOVE III Age: 28. World ranking: 10. Record in Masters since 1988: Missed cut, didn't play, didn't play, tied 42, tied 25.

Last year Love won a million dollars in a season quicker than anyone but Couples. A Walker Cup player in 1985, Love teamed up with Couples to win the World Cup last year. Seems destined to play in the Ryder Cup at The Belfry in September.

Recreation: fishing, hunting.

(Photographs omitted)

TV TIMES

BBC1: 11.05-11.55pm

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