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Nick Faldo would prefer a little more alone time than he's going to get this week. (Photo: Getty Images)
Nick Faldo would prefer a little more alone time than he's going to get this week. (Photo: Getty Images)

After criticizing Woods on TV, Faldo is paired with him

Nick Faldo is comfortable in the broadcast booth, but he'll have to endure the on-course spotlight this week. He's been paired with Tiger Woods, whom he has criticized on the air, meaning his every move this week will be magnified.

HOYLAKE, England (AP) -- Nick Faldo wore a Superman logo on his cap Monday, appropriate for this Open Championship.

Everyone must feel like they're on another planet at Royal Liverpool, a links course tucked along the Irish Sea that has not hosted professional golf in 25 years and hasn't held the Open since 1967. And Faldo, a three-time champion and legendary figure in these parts, may need super powers to get through the week.

It's bad enough that he has not played a tournament since the end of April. Faldo learned Monday morning that he will be playing the first two rounds with defending champion Tiger Woods, whom Faldo has criticized from the broadcast booth the last two years.

Think the situation will be magnified?

"Slightly," Faldo said, eyes visibly rolling behind his sunglasses on another bright, hot day. "Won't be much fun, that."

Woods and swing coach Hank Haney can be a little sensitive when it comes to Woods' revamped swing, and Faldo took his crack two years ago at the Buick Invitational, when he was working for ABC Sports. From the 18th fairway with a one-shot lead, Woods missed a 2-iron so badly that it turned out good, landing on a tiny strip of grass right of the pond. He made birdie to win by two.

"A complete fan and miss," Faldo said, describing Woods' swing as too flat.

Woods' memory is long, and his mercy is scarce. The last time anyone recalls them playing together was the first round of the inaugural WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, and after Woods beat the aging Faldo to a pulp, he coolly said, "I'm not going to feel sorry for him. He's had his chance to win tournaments."

Woods arrived in Hoylake over the weekend to begin his acquaintance with the centuries-old course. He finished his practice round Monday by 9:30 a.m. and was gone before the pairings were released.

Faldo stood by his criticism from the booth, saying he was paid to offer his opinion.

"And I'm entitled to my opinion," he said. "I'll be right sometimes, and I'll be wrong sometimes. As long as it's entertaining and the check hits my bank account once a month, that's fine by me."

Asked if he and Woods had smoothed over any hard feelings, Faldo called it "water under the bridge, with a few trout."

Besides, he has more worries than whether Woods has a vendetta.

The six-time major winner doesn't want to look foolish no matter how little he plays, and he was methodical as ever walking the grounds of Royal Liverpool, where Faldo played the English Boys' Amateur in 1974 and the British Amateur in 1975. He also played the European Open at Hoylake in 1981.

He worked out of pot bunkers, which have been refurbished by building sod lines on the walls. He pitched out of the yellow native grasses, which look daunting because of the shin-high length, but are more wispy than troublesome. And he tried to find the speed on the greens.

"I need a smidgen more than a week's practice to take on Tiger," he said.

Clearly, playing alongside Woods for two rounds at this stage in his career is not what he wanted.

"Not when I'm totally unprepared, trying to prepare the best I can in a short space of time," he said. "Now I get thrown into the deep-end spotlight. But we will muddle through it."

Others will be traipsing along the crusty linksland, trying to steer clear of the bunkers and avoid the out-of-bounds on 10 holes -- unusual for this brand of golf -- especially on the third and 18th holes, where the white line is painted atop a flattened furrow.

With only one official practice round in the books, there remained a debate whether players would be using primarily irons off the tee to navigate around the bunkers, or hit driver to blast it over all the trouble.

England is in the middle of heat wave, and fans sprawled along the mounds without their shirts, soaking in a blazing sun.

The ground is firm, but not quite brittle. With so much sunshine, this will be a brown Open, with the yellow grass framing fairways that have only splotches of green, as if someone spilled a bucket of paint.

"It's a great course. It's a shame we haven't been here before," Robert Allenby said, smirking at the thought that no one knows much about a course that first was used in 1897 for the Open, and once held more Opens than any other English links.

But it received universal praise for its fairness. The ground is so firm that the ball seems to roll forever, although it doesn't have the lunar landscape of Royal St. George's or the occasional blind tee shot found at Royal Birkdale.

"Royal Lytham? That was fairly brown early in the week. And Royal St. George's, that was brutal," Allenby said. "Both of those courses, you hit it down the middle and it could go that way [pointing left] or that way [point right]. Here, it goes this way."

And with that, he pointed right down the middle.

"It's a good test of golf," he concluded.

The wind picked up in the afternoon, and Adam Scott said he had to hit nearly two clubs more than usual -- a 6-iron instead of an 8-iron, for example. More worrisome was when no one in his foursome of Aussies could keep a tee shot on the green at the par-3 ninth.

"And when we got there, they were rolling the greens," Scott said.

Faldo believes that's the way it should be. The Open is unlike any other major because no one plays links golf, except for the Dunhill Championship on the European Tour.

He noted that Peter Thomson supposedly won at Royal Liverpool in 1956 without ever hitting driver.

"That's kind of the tradition of the British Open in a way, which is nice in this modern game [of power]," he said. "It's all part of finesse. It's downwind and the pin is in the front, you've got to judge the bounce ... it's difficult."

For Faldo, it will be tougher than usual.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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