Hard work paying off for Faldo

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Millions of dollars of improvements, most dramatically an overseeding of the tough and tangly Bermuda grass with lush and consistent bent grass, have turned Doral's famed Blue Monster course into some kind of Green Kitten. The greens were so true even Nick Faldo had no trouble putting on them, though he was quick to attribute his bogey-free round of 67 yesterday to the long hours of practice.

At the end of yesterday's first round of the Doral Open, Faldo was two strokes off the lead held at 65 by Davis Love III, Steve Lowery and Scott Verplank, who had just 22 putts in his round. One stroke back was another threesome, the former US Open champion Tom Kite, the South African Fulton Allem and the US qualifying school winner, Woody Austin.

The defanging of Doral prompted Kite, despite the scoring benefit he clearly derived from it, into a brief harangue. "This was a wonderful course, a real bear. But now holes that were absolute terrors just are not as scary as they used to be. Right now the mentality is that green is good, and golly, is it green out there."

Love concurred, noting that despite his late afternoon tee time, the greens remained so smooth that "every putt is makeable. If you have it on line, it's going in."

Though several good attempts ended up short, though on line, Faldo saw five birdie putts go in, but only one was longer than 10 feet. "At last I've got a good solid round under my belt. I've worked bloody hard on my putting. The technique is good, it's just a question of getting the pace. Today was the result of that hard work. If I can keep adding birdies I have a chance," Faldo said.

Only two of the other five Europeans here this week finished the day under par, Bernhard Langer with a 69 and Jesper Parnevik with a 71. Langer came back from a two bogey start to shoot three under, finishing with three birdies and an eagle.

The other three, Colin Montgomerie (72), David Feherty (75) and Seve Ballesteros (76), will have to do much better to make the cut today, because exactly half the field of 144 broke par.

Interestingly, in this week that for so many of the top international players is supposed to be a warm-up for the Masters, which will be staged five weeks from now, all of the leaders, except Kite, have the same pre- Masters strategy - to try to win in order to gain a place in the field. Love is the most explicit about this goal, saying that his main focus is to win on Sunday and remove the pressure he has been under for the last 11 months to regain a place in the field at Augusta.

DORAL OPEN (US unless stated): 65 D Love III, S Verplank, S Lowery. 66 T Kite, F Allem (SA), W Austin. 67 N Faldo (Eng), S Elkington (Aus), D Duval. 68 G Norman (Aus), H Sutton, B Claar, S Rintoul (Aus), N Ozaki (Japan), P Jacobsen, B Glasson, J Leonard, P Stewart, M Heinen. 69 B Langer (Ger), M Calcavecchia, M O'Meara, S Kendall, J Sluman, B Andrade, J Haas, T Tyner. Selected: 71 J Parnevik (Swe).