Faldo has new grip on the game


NICK FALDO begins the New Year with a new grip and the confidence that he can improve on a 1996, in which he claimed his sixth major title, when he lines up alongside the other winners on last year's US tour in the Mercedes golf championship at La Costa, San Diego today.

His only victory came in the Masters at Augusta, where he inflicted another painful defeat on Greg Norman, and Faldo feels that his 40th year could be one of his most successful with his mind firmly focused on golf again.

He had to endure the breakup of his second marriage and the publicity surrounding his relationship with former University of Arizona student Brenna Cepelak, while Augusta was remembered for the collapse of Norman rather than Faldo's fine 67 for a five shot triumph.

Faldo said: "Any time you win a major, it's a great year. There was an awful lot going on in my life that had to be dealt with and the rest of the year was hard work for me. But now all that's been taken care of and golf is again my main priority."

Faldo has formidable mental toughness and his assertion offers the prospect of an intriguing year in America with Tiger Woods playing his first full professional season after six US amateur titles, and two victories in as many months when he joined the paid ranks at the end of August.

Both are in a 32 strong field, but Faldo is reluctant to join the chorus of those predicting a stellar performance from 21 year old, Woods, whose signing of endorsement contracts worth $60 million, along with his spectacular success, resulted in media hype never seen before in the sport.

"I haven't seen much of Tiger but, in theory, he has only been on the tour for five minutes, so who knows what's going to happen," said Faldo. "Give it another year, then it will be interesting to see how he is doing.

"I wouldn't like to be playing with that spotlight on me all the time. I know what it's like, it can get crazy. It is constantly being fired at you and that's fine if you are playing well. If you are not, it his a different story."

Woods insists it isn't a burden, abut even he is becoming concerned by the army of fans - some attendances have increased by 30,000 when he is playing that track him around the course. He admitted: "There are times when I worry about my safety. Golf is a rare sport in that you can actually touch the players, and there is always one person that can turn ugly."

He has already taken to wearing dark clothing in practice rounds because they conceal some of the pen marks from autograph hunters, but is now considering employing bodyguards.

He added: "I am seriously thinking about personal security, I will certainly have someone looking after me in the future. I played 16 tour events as an amateur before I understood what the tour was about inside the ropes but outside it is completely different."

With Woods in attendance, much of the attention is deflected from the rest of the players, including Faldo, who has spent the last month working on a new grip with coach David Leadbetter. He explained: "I've changed it slightly to help me get more snap in the swing. Now the club is swinging much more freely."

. Nick Price has finally been granted his Zimbabwean citizenship, ending years of debate over his nationality".

Price (37), who had travelled on a British passport since 1984 when he lost his Zimbabwean citizenship, played golf representing Zimbabwe from 1993 under a special dispensation.

Price, born in neighbouring South Africa and raised in Zimbabwe, now lives in the United States. He renounced his Zimbabwean citizenship in 1984 when the country abolished dual citizenship.

Price last year complained that Zimbabwean immigration officials had been sitting on his application to regain his Zimbabwean, citizenship.