Golf / US PGA: Price shatters the spell of mediocrity: Double champion moves into the Watson class

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The Independent Online
NICK PRICE has to wait until the Masters in April to discover if he can still play golf better than anybody else in the universe. Having won the last two major championships Price is in record-breaking form and his only regret is that the US PGA was the last classic event of the season.

His runaway victory at Southern Hills confirmed his status as the world No 1 and the most dominant force in the game since Nick Faldo in 1990 and before that Tom Watson. Faldo, after winning five majors from 1987-92, has failed to win any of the last nine and Price's achievement has broken a spell in which golf was struggling to identify the best player.

Officially Greg Norman was No 1 but compared to Price he's an under-achiever. The 37-year-old Zimbabwean won his first major, the US PGA in St Louis in 1992, since when he has recorded 16 victories and earned more than dollars 6m ( pounds 3.97m). Asked to define what makes an all-time great player, Price replied: 'I think you would have to win all four major championships. But then you can't leave Sam Snead or Tom Watson off that list and they didn't win all four. One of my prerequisites is that for a certain time a player dominates the game. It didn't matter where it was, which tournament, which corner of the world he was in, he won. Jack (Nicklaus) did that longer than anybody and Watson did it. But it's very hard to do now because there are so many good players.'

Last year Price had four wins and was No 1 on the US money list but he didn't win any of the majors; this season he has five victories and has become the first player since Watson took the US Open and the Open in 1982 to win back-to-back majors. Nobody else on the US Tour this year has won twice.

If Price was slightly fortunate in winning the Open at Turnberry, he totally monopolised the 76th US PGA, which boasted the strongest field of the year. 'God, he's magnificent to watch,' Ben Crenshaw said. 'He's a man in full flight. He's so strong. That's one thing that's often overlooked. In striking the ball he's as good as anyone since Ben Hogan.'

Price's victory meant that for the first time an American failed to win a major in a calendar year. Price's 11 under par aggregate of 269 eclipsed by two strokes the record set by Bobby Nichols in 1964 and it was the lowest score in any US major. But for taking three putts at the 18th Price would have equalled the record margin of seven strokes established by Nicklaus in 1980.

In the entire championship Price three putted only twice and on each occasion he led the field by seven. 'My short game, my chipping and putting, won for me,' he said. 'Even though my long game was solid my play around the green was flawless.' In the four rounds Price had 29, 27, 27 and 28 putts. 'It's all happened for me since I won the PGA two years ago,' he said. In his last four appearances Price, who missed the cut in the US Open at Oakmont, won the Western Open, the Open, finished a shot out of a play-off in Memphis and won here.

Price had only one US Tour victory before he was 34; Watson had 28 but Watson hasn't won in the last seven years. 'The only thing I want to do from here on is to keep the desire that I've had over the last two years,' Price said. 'There are times when I feel totally in control.'

What is hurting Faldo, who finished joint fourth following a 66, and Watson, joint ninth, is their putting. 'In the first three rounds I had about 30 birdie chances from within 15 feet and didn't take any,' Faldo said.

Price dedicated his victory to his mother who was born in Barry, South Wales and lives in Norfolk. His father died of lung cancer. Price smokes but when he lights up on the golf course he does it very furtively. His wife constantly implores him to give it up but Price is aware that when Arnold Palmer quit smoking he never won another major.

TONY JACKLIN won his first tournament for 14 years - and his biggest ever cheque of pounds 66,000 - in the First of America Seniors Classic in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was his fourth event on the seniors' tour in the US, just five weeks after his 50th birthday.

Full scores, Sporting Digest