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Faldo & Norman battle at Melbourne

Greg Norman and Nick Faldo are back together again on an Alister Mackenzie-designed masterpiece.

Far removed from their emotional showdown at Augusta National in the 1996 Masters, the aging superstars finished preparations Wednesday at historic Royal Melbourne for the Heineken Classic.

Faldo, a budding golf course architect, likes what he sees of Royal Melbourne, the layout he considers ``one of the great classics of the world, definitely in the top 10 of the greats.''

The Englishman's last competitive round at Royal Melbourne was in 1990, ``which is a bit of a worry.''

``If you list the muscles that are aching now . . . this is totally different,'' Faldo said.

``In 1990 I was right in the heart of one of my best years. I was the guy to beat, now I am trying to catch up with these youngsters who bomb it 90 yards past you.''

Both players are longer members of the U.S. PGA Tour, with Norman saying he will play only 12-to-15 tournaments this year and Faldo planning to play at least 20 and possibly 22.

That's not to suggest Faldo isn't happy on the golf course.

``I am a different guy out there'' Faldo said. ``I still want to play well and get competitive and I am working on my game. But I still enjoy the thrill -- and frustration.''

Faldo, like Norman, supplements his practice with a weightlifting program. While Norman said earlier this week that he'd spent as much time skiing and hunting as he had preparing for the new season, Faldo said he's just as committed as ever to practicing -- although it's now a matter of quality over quantity.

``That's what you have to change,'' he said. ``When I was remodeling my swing I was hitting 1,500 balls a day. That hurt. Now I do a good three-hour session -- an hour of bunkers, putting and chipping, but I wouldn't stand up and belt balls for three hours.''

The gallery at Royal Melbourne will be looking forward to watching American John Daly belt a few over the next four days.

He tees off just after lunch Thursday with Englishman Anthony Wall and Australian Robert Allenby, with Faldo two groups ahead and Norman one.

Daly, playing his first tournament a member of the PGA European Tour, is coming off a fourth-place finish Sunday in the Phoenix Open. The Heineken is on both the European and Australasian tours.

Michael Campbell of New Zealand, who has won the past two Heinekens in Perth, said the Melbourne weather could have a say in the tournament.

``Sometimes you get four seasons in four hours, and that's the challenging thing about it,'' Campbell said. ``The greens are great, but if they dry up in the next four days, come Sunday they will be hard and fast and difficult.''

Campbell will play with South Africa's Ernie Els and Australia's Craig Parry in a morning start Thursday.

``This is definitely a second-shot golf course,'' Els said, adding that the greens are in the top condition. ``And I think the Aussies -- guys like Robert Allenby, Parry, Greg Norman -- will have a big advantage.''


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