Nick Faldo was yesterday struggling to make the cut in the BellSouth Classic, the last tournament before the Masters begins next Thursday. Faldo, who has failed to make the weekend in his last three appearances at Augusta since he won a third Green Jacket in 1996, desperately wanted four days of competitive action at the TPC at Sugarloaf. But an opening round of 72 left him requiring something in red figures to be certain of playing again today.
Faldo's first round was interrupted overnight due to Thursday morning's delay. He resumed at the 17th and holed from five feet for a birdie to get back to level par. Just over two hours later, having started his second round at the 10th, Faldo again birdied the hole, this time from 15 feet, but two earlier bogeys at the 12th and 14th, caused by hooked drives, left the 42-year-old with much work to do.
Paul Stankowski, the overnight leader after a first-round 66, moved to seven under par after 13 holes, but Steve Jones, the 1996 US Open champion, picked up three strokes in 11 holes to lead at eight under.
Stankowski won the BellSouth at the Atlanta Country Club four years ago after being the sixth alternate. That night he received a fax from Augusta National inviting him to the Masters the following week. He missed the cut and in case he did not return, bought asouvenir glass and filled it with sand from a bunker as well as his tee and a ball.
After winning a second US Tour title in Hawaii early in 1997, Stankowski did return to Augusta and finished fifth. The next year he was 39th, but by then he was trying to change his swing and he sank to 113th on the US money list last year. That was enough to keep his tour card, but not enough to earn an invitation to the Masters. Now, regular tour winners are no longer eligible automatically for Augusta, a win this week would not give Stankowski a tee time next week. The 30-year-old Texan does not agree with the rule change.
"It stinks," he said. "It's not a very good rule, I don't think. I don't see where they are going with not inviting tour winners. It's ridiculous.
"Our tour's so darn deep that just to win out here is pretty tough, especially... Well, Tiger's not here this week, so people probably think it's a mini-tour event." Nor will Gary Nicklaus, who opened with a 68, have a chance of joining his father, the six-times Masters champion, Jack, next week. Should the Heir Bear continue his good form, though, Jack might want to give up his place for his son.
This is the first time Nicklaus Jnr has held a US Tour card. In nine events, he has missed five cuts and is 146th on the money list with $46,020 (£29,100).
"The name helps," he said. "Because my last name is Nicklaus and my dad happens to be the best player who has ever played the game, I'm going to get a lot of attention. People are going to want to compare me to him... How can I compare myself to him? He's won 70 tournaments and 18 majors."
BELLSOUTH CLASSIC AT TPC (Sugarloaf, Atlanta) First-round scores (US unless stated): 66 P Stankowski; 67 P Mickelson, K Perry, J Van de Velde (Fr), B McCallister, J D Blake, S Jones, E Booker; 68 J Sindelar, G Hjertstedt (Swe), N Price (Zim), J Huston, B Henninger, D Stockton Jnr, G Nicklaus, L Mize, D Peoples, C Paulson, T Scherrer; 69 M Reid, H Frazar, D Sutherland, B Jobe, D Forsman, N Lancaster, P Azinger, R Fehr, L Mattiace, K Triplett; 70 M Springer, B Cheesman, K Sutherland, R Black, J Kaye, B Burns, G Hnatiuk, J Maxon, B Glasson, C Raulerson, S Gump, S Verplank, S Dunlap; 71 M Wiebe, J M Olazabal (Sp), J Delsing, R Beem, D Frost (SA), O Uresti, D Toms, B Faxon, C Barlow, S Gotsche, P Jordan, W Austin, B Watts, C Perry, S Cink, B Geiberger, M A Jimenez (Sp), B Fabel, G Norman (Aus), R Sabbatini, S Murphy; 72 J Leonard, J Kelly, B Heintz, J Buha, S Micheel, K Gibson, B Bates, J Green, S Hart, L Janzen, N Faldo (GB), C Pavin, B Elder, J Smith, E Fryatt (GB), J Gove, D Morland; Selected: 74 P Curry (GB ).