Augusta diary by James Corrigan

Nelford set to cap fightback against fate
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Of all the heart-warming comebacks here this week - Ben Crenshaw and all that - none has heated the atria more intensely than that of Jim Nelford.

Or, that is, none would have if anyone remembered who Jim Nelford was.

The 50-year-old, here this week as a summariser for Canadian TV, announced he will soon be resurrecting his playing career on the American Seniors Tour. Golf still owes Jim one. A big one.

His story is simple but chilling. In 1984 the young pro was in the clubhouse with a one-shot lead in the prestigious Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach shot, and when the drive of his nearest pursuer, Hale Irwin, headed towards Carmel Bay the glory that would surely propel him to the glittering future everyone was predicting was in his hands.

But then the ball hit a big rock jutting out of the sea, finding the only angle possible to hurtle back on to the fairway, then Irwin's overcooked approach shot whacked the top of the flag before dropping down, dead, to hole's side, and then the three-times major winner conjured what he confessed was "the best shot I've ever hit" with a two-iron, from a bunker, to three feet, in the play-off.

So Nelford was denied. "But don't worry," Tom Weiskopf told him at the airport. "Nothing that unlucky can happen to you again." Six months later Nelford was swimming in a lake with his children when a motorboat went out of control and the propeller cut into the worried father, first travelling up his back and thigh, then from his right elbow to his wrist.

At first, the doctors wanted to amputate the arm, but thanks to a plate, 13 screws and a reroute of a few muscles and tendons it was saved.

"They told me I'd never play golf again,'' said Nelford. " But I came back, played a couple more years on Tour and made a number of cuts. I'm having one last go. It's a long way to come back, from where my arm was in a million pieces in a lake and I was almost dead."

HAVANA CIGAR 'OUTRAGE' Miguel Angel Jimenez, he of the Lee Van Cleef eyes, the Clint Eastwood stare and the David Seaman ponytail, has been fuming here after the American authorities confiscated his trademark cigars. "I arrived with my usual stash - 50 Havanas - and the Customs took them off me because they were Cuban," said the Spaniard. "It's an outrage. An affront to my civil liberties."

HOWELL'S SOFT LANDING Charles Howell III (or Charles Howell IV as he is now known after taking four whacks to get out of a bunker in his nine on the 11th), was on his way to a 20-over total to finish last. In truth, Howell should have been walking up those final fairways embarrassed as hell at what it read on the scoreboard behind the greens. Except that the officials decided to leave the columns next to Howell's name blank so as to spare him his blushes. As an 11-year-old schoolboy Howell shot 79 around the National. As a 26-year-old professional he shot 84. Howell is from Augusta. Think they would have been so kind to, say, Colin Montgomerie?