How times change. Not long ago it was young pretenders like Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke who would have been playing their way into the Masters. Now the trio are resting up the week before the year's first major and it is Nick Faldo and Jose Maria Olazabal who are seeking confidence at the BellSouth Classic. Ironically, given his famous lack of enthusiasm for practising, Montgomerie turned up, if briefly, on the driving range at the TPC at Sugarloaf, on the outskirts ofAtlanta, before heading forAugusta today.
Faldo, who has not made a cut at Augusta since his last Masters win in 1996, played all four rounds at the Players Championship, and is as determined as ever. "At least my game is playable now," Faldo, currently ranked outside the world top 150, said. "I keep battling away. The thing for Augusta is to work on the short game."
That is an area Olazabal, who missed the cut at the Players as he did here before going on to win the Masters last year, has always been able to rely on. While his driving is traditionally suspect, his putting is going the same way.
"Well, my health is OK," Olazabal said, "but I'm not sure about anything else. My iron play is not bad but the two ends of my game are not good, and they are the two most important clubs in the bag. If the putting stroke is not there it is very difficult to score."
While most of the top names are missing, David Duval will be defending the title he won last year against Justin Leonard, Nick Price, Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples and Greg Norman, who designed the TPC at Sugarloaf course. With mountainous terrain and longer walks between greens and tees than between tees and greens, many in the field will be enviously watching Casey Martin in his buggy.
An appeal court recently upheld Martin's right to ride the fairways. The PGA Tour are considering their position but are anxious to avoid others taking advantage because they would be able to play better with a cart. Ed Fiori has requested one due to a back problem. But Martin has a condition known as Klippel-Trenaunay-Webber Syndrome, which means that he has no main vein in his leg and a main bone that has been described as having the strength of balsa wood. Without a buggy he would not be able to play at all - the player feared his leg might snap completely when he stepped in a hole during the Nissan Open in Los Angeles a month ago.
"That is the big crux of the issue," said Martin, who has made four cuts in seven events this season. "They have been hesitant to grant an exception because there are other exceptions out there with guys who are hurting but aren't, quote, unquote, disabled like I am. Without the cart, I wouldn't be playing right now."
Martin is 130th on the US money list this season and is second only to John Daly on the driving distance statistics with an average of 287.6yards.