Price prepares in desert for Grand Slam assault

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The Independent Online
GOLF : Nick Price, the world No 1, was asked if he thought that Nick Faldo, the former world No 1, would feature as a major player this year. "I don't think about him or anybody else," Price said. "That doesn't worry me one bit."

Price and Faldo are both playing in the desert this week, but are oceans apart. The Zimbabwean is making his debut in the Desert Classic in the Persian Gulf, while the Englishman embarks on his reincarnation as a member of the US Tour in Tucson, Arizona.

Faldo has won five major championships, but the last one was three years ago; Price won two in a row last season - the Open and the US PGA - and therefore has the opportunity in the first two majors of the new year, which are the Masters and the US Open,of completing a Grand Slam.

Both players are coached in Florida by David Leadbetter and there, according to Price, apart from their physical resemblance, the similarity ends.

"I have seen Nick and David working together and I'm a totally different character, although in my own way I'm just as intense," Price said.

"I can work with David for three hours and gain enough information to last me six weeks. I prefer not to be under his scrutiny too long - I would end up wrapping my driver around his neck.

"Nick prefers to have David standing over him all the time. Nick is a perfectionist and so am I. We're going for that ultimate round or streak where you never miss a shot.

"The difference is that when I hit it to 20 feet it may not be perfect, but I'll just get on with it. I've seen Nick hit it to 20 feet and he puts his head down."

Whereas Faldo set great store by being officially recognised as No 1 in the Sony world rankings, Price denigrates the system. "It's never been an indicator for me," he said. "It has a lot of flaws. The trouble is is that there's no player on the committee that runs the thing. I'd rather win five times and finish third in the rankings than win once and be the No 1. Winning tournaments is what it's all about."

Price won seven times last season, and only Ernie Els came close. Price had what he describes as "the X factor that takes you past the winning post". For the first time in his career, he felt that his short game had caught up with his legendary long game.

Els, after playing in the pro-am yesterday, described his game as "very rusty", but he said a similar thing last year before opening with a course record of 61, en route to winning the championship by six strokes from Greg Norman. In any case, Els regained the winning habit two weeks ago, when he won the Bell's Cup in South Africa.

Price and Norman flew to Dubai in their private jets. Twelve months ago, Price bought Norman's old Gulfstream model (plenty of miles on the clock) and when he set off from South Africa for Thailand to play in the Johnnie Walker Classic, a tyre burst on take-off.

When switching his baggage to another plane he managed to damage his wrist, and although he arrived safely in Thailand, was unable to take part in the tournament.

The Desert Classic is sponsored by the local aluminium company, and the field they have attracted here - not just Price, Els and Norman, but also Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer and Colin Montgomerie, the European No 1 -suggests they have raided the piggy bank. It is fair to assume they have invested more in appearance money than prize-money.

The total purse is £450,000, which shows no increase on last year. This irritates the rank and file on the European Tour, who point out that prices here - £3 for a small bottle of beer, for example - are among the steepest on the circuit. It will be a particularly expensive week for those who miss the half-way cut.