Price is right on Couples' shoulder

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The Independent Online
GOLF Fred Couples and Nick Price, first and third in the European Tour Order of Merit, are proving to be a cut above the rest on their two-week furlough from America. The Legacy, Arnold Palmer's controversial course at the Orchard Golf and Country Club, is a long, hard, hot slog but Couples and Price are adapting better than most and yesterday they assumed a familiar position on the leaderboard after the second round of the Johnnie Walker Classic.

Couples described 71 around here as a good score, 70 as a great score. That was after coming in with a 67. Price subsequently matched that and at the half-way stage the Zimbabwean leads by one stroke from Couples and the Swede Robert Karlsson, and by three from Colin Montgomerie, Darren Clarke and Robert Allenby.

Couples, Montgomerie and Price, first, second and third in the Dubai Desert Classic last week, are obviously on song but Karlsson is a different case altogether. He shot 79 in the first round in Dubai, barely hit a fairway and missed the cut by a mile. Yesterday he shot 65 and that could well stand as a course record here.

Whereas Greg Norman, who is four off the pace, and Couples thought the course was still a formidable challenge, Price and Karlsson reckoned that, because the wind had died, it was playing easier.

Couples, second in this championship in Thailand to Norman last year, had four birdies and an eagle. "The greens are extremely hard," he said, "and you can't be cute with your second shots. Nobody can get the ball to stop near the flag. Nobody. You'd have to be a genius. The smart play is to get it on the green and hole a few long ones."

Price, who is 38 today, had eight birdies, three bogeys and would have led by two but the Fat Lady let him down at the short 16th where he three-putted. The Fat Lady is the name of the putter he started playing with the week after he won the Open Championship at Turnberry last July. The putter with which he won the Open has become an heirloom.

One of Price's partners yesterday was Montgomerie, and his round of 68 was one of only three in the two days of the championship that did not contain a single bogey. This was a somewhat different Big Monty to the one who sneezed on Thursday and complained of breathing difficulties. Yesterday he described his round as almost perfect and he thinks he is playing well enough to win the tournament. While Price has the Fat Lady, Montgomerie takes comfort from his Big Bertha driver and she did not let him down, steering him through the straight and narrow.

So far Norman has managed to avoid coming into the press tent. On day one his excuse was that he had a helicopter to catch - the super-duper stars are flown to and from the course to avoid traffic that would make the M62 look inviting - and on day two the Great White Shark said he had an upset stomach.

Norman is on bread and water, a diet his ancestors would have been accustomed to had they been dispatched to the colonies. "I found the course harder," Norman said. "Although the wind was much quieter, it changed the holes and some of them played much longer."

Ernie Els, one of the helicoptered elite, made the cut with nothing to spare. He had a six at the 18th and, at five over, will be first off the tee in the third round. Clarke, from Dungannon, Northern Ireland, was 34th in Dubai and puts his improvement down to a putter bought in the pro shop for £150. Yesterday he had 26 putts but he was not so impressive from tee to green. As Price might point out, it ain't over till the Fat Lady swings.

Scores, Sporting Digest, page 47