Faldo finds drive to compete with the best

Were it anyone else, the fact that a player ranked 108th in the world had been included in the 12-man field for the Cisco World Match Play would have been condemned as lunacy. But Nick Faldo is not any player. Six majors proves that and, if he created a stir for the wrong reasons earlier this year, today he has the chance to do so with his golf.

Were it anyone else, the fact that a player ranked 108th in the world had been included in the 12-man field for the Cisco World Match Play would have been condemned as lunacy. But Nick Faldo is not any player. Six majors proves that and, if he created a stir for the wrong reasons earlier this year, today he has the chance to do so with his golf.

Faldo carried a certain amount of sympathy in his row with Mark James over the publication of the former Ryder Cup captain's book. It coincided with an improvement in his form after starting the year at No 175 in the world rankings, and he received his invitation for Wentworth as far back as July.

"I've been looking forward to it but I had to keep it a secret," Faldo said. He was the world No 1 at the time of the event in 1989 and 1992, and reached the final on three other occasions. But he has not appeared since 1994, when he lost in the second round to Colin Montgomerie. "It has seemed to have created a bit of a stir, me being back in the field, and it will be nice to get some support," added Faldo.

"I know I am playing well enough to give someone a game." That someone is Darren Clarke, who won the Andersen Consulting World Championship in February, beating Tiger Woods in the final. "It will be a tough match. I have never known Wentworth playing so long and he is longer off the tee than me.

"You just have to keep plugging away and believe you have a chance in every hole. I've got some good memories of this course. I know it as well as anyone. I still feel I am edging closer to winning."

Another intriguing first-round match sees Sergio Garcia playing Adam Scott. Both are 20 and have been professionals for 18 months and four months respectively. Scott, one of a group of talented youngsters emerging from Australia, has just secured his European Tour card for next season.

Garcia has not lived up to his performances in a remarkable rookie season last year, when he won twice and almost beat Woods at the USPGA. The Spaniard did get a boost, however, when he defeated the world No 1 in an 18-hole match put on for television in August.

He has a fine matchplay record, as an amateur and in last year's Ryder Cup, but lost to Retief Goosen in the first round here 12 months ago. It was a controversial exit for, on the 15th tee, Garcia ripped off his shoe and kicked it away, narrowly missing the head of the referee. "I thought I was playing soccer against England," he said. "This time, hopefully, I'll hit a better drive at the 15th."

The pressure of living up to his rookie exploits got to the youngster during the early part of the year, as his then caddie, Fanny Sunesson, can testify. Eventually, his parents, Victor, who is also his coach, and Consuela, suggested a change of attitude. "I hope I have matured a little," Garcia said. "When you do well, you want to do better. I was a bit impatient but luckily I had my family to talk to. My parents said if that was the way I was going to be, they would prefer if I didn't play golf. They said golf is not the most important thing in your life. I wasn't angry with anyone else, but I was angry with myself.

"I wanted to do well and was taking it too seriously. Now I am more easy-going on the golf course." However, not easygoing enough, sadly, to autograph the ball of one of his amateur playing partners in the pro-am tournament yesterday.

The first match of the morning, between Padraig Harrington and Bob May, has been put back to 9am, while Goosen plays Thomas Bjorn in the last match. Montgomerie, the defending champion who won the Volvo PGA for the third year running in May, is one of four players to sit out until Friday.

The Scot, now a trim 14 stone, is confident his form has returned after a mid-season blip. "I wasn't happy after the Open and was adamant I wanted to lose some weight, but did it too quickly," he explained. "My rhythm went. My hips were coming through a bit quick and I was spinning out of shots. It took a couple of months to get it back but I was determined to make my golf work around my weight rather than my weight working around my golf."

CARD OF COURSE

Hole Yards Par Hole Yards Par

1 473 4 10 184 3 2 154 3 11 403 4 3 447 4 12 509 5 4 497 5 13 442 4 5 191 3 14 179 3 6 354 4 15 481 4 7 396 4 16 383 4 8 400 4 17 571 5 9 452 4 18 531 5

Out 3,364 35 In 3,683 37

Total: 7,047 yards, Par 72

TEE-OFF TIMES

9.0 and 1.0: (8) P Harrington (Irl) v B May (US) Winner to play (1) C Montgomerie (Sco) 9.15 and 1.15: (5) D Clarke (N Irl) v N Faldo (Eng) Winner to play (4) V Singh (Fiji) 9.30 and 1.30: (6) S Garcia (Sp) v A Scott (Aus) Winner to play (3) L Westwood (Eng) 9.45 and 1.45: (7) T Bjorn (Den) v R Goosen (SA) Winner to play (2) E Els (SA).

Seed numbers in brackets

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