Faldo on target despite late scare

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The Independent Online

Large bags and backpacks are among the many items spectators at the Players Championship are banned from bringing on to the course, but as far as Nick Faldo is concerned anything with a Velcro-fastened strap can be added to the list. On a Faldo sort of a day at the TPC at Sawgrass, which is to say par was a good score, the 44-year-old was plodding along nicely when he was disrupted on a crucial tee shot.

Faldo was a stroke off the lead, having got through the treacherous closing holes on the Stadium Course after teeing off at the 10th, when he pushed his drive at the first hole after a spectator ripped open a bag on his backswing. He was not far off the fairway but in some of the longest rough on the course, and took a double bogey six.

Faldo also took a bogey six at the next to drop three strokes in two holes, when he had only had one bogey in the previous 27 holes.

"When you lose momentum on this course it is scary," Faldo said. "Every hole is a brute. One moment's loss of concentration and I ended up making a good putt for a six. After that I had to regroup." He did just that to birdie the fourth and the fifth, although he had another bogey at the seventh. Nevertheless, a round of 73, added to the 68 of his first round, left the six-time major champion at three under par. When he finished, only two others were better placed in the clubhouse, Carl Paulson at six under after a pair of 69s and Phil Mickelson a shot behind.

Following the storm on Thursday, almost half the field still had to finish their first rounds yesterday morning. While the skies dawned clear yesterday, there was an icy breeze which, gusting and swirling through the trees, made scoring tricky. Faldo resumed at four under on the 14th and played the last five in level par.

Returning to the 10th tee at the start of his second round, he played the back nine in an impressive one under, safely getting through the treacherous 17th and 18th holes without incident for the second time in only a few hours. "You really had to concentrate and hit every shot solid," Faldo said. "I have pushed myself for two days and I am pleased. I have hit some good shots and some good putts."

Faldo may not be able to power his way around the course like the modern stars but his plotting method was rewarded because of a renaissance on the greens. He needed only 23 putts in the first round and holed some crucial putts for par on both days.

This is Faldo's first event in the States this year after he lost his US Tour card last year. He failed to complete the 15-event minimum when he declined to travel back to the States after 11 September. Instead he played on the southern hemisphere swing of the European Tour and had three top-10 finishes, including a third place in the Singapore Masters.

This, however, is a large step-up in class for a player who has not won for five years but with a settled home life, he is more relaxed all round. "My No 1 goal is to enjoy myself and that's loosened me up," Faldo said. "I am just going for it."

Mickelson had a strange day even for the left-hander. First he added three more birdies to his first round for a 64, one outside the course record set by Fred Couples in 1992 and equalled by Greg Norman two years later. But then Mickelson dealt more in bogeys than birdies in his second round of 75.

Paulson, a 31-year-old who has never won on tour, made the cut for the first time this season at his fifth attempt having suffered from viral meningitis earlier in the year. Tiger Woods, the defending champion, hit a bogey at the 18th in his second round for a 72 to leave himself at one under par. "If the wind keeps up," said the world No 1, "you just need a solid round to move up that leaderboard."

Miguel Angel Jimenez holed an eight-iron at the 17th for an ace but then drove into the water at the last for a double bogey. The testing conditions were too much for John Daly and his driver, which ended up in the lake by the 14th hole.