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Nick Price looking to end barren spell

Former world number one Nick Price, who plays his first 2002 event at this week's Phoenix Open, is desperate to return to winning ways after a victory drought of more than three years in America.

The three times major winner, 44, last triumphed at the 1998 St. Jude Classic but, despite several close calls and 12 top-10 finishes over the past two seasons, has not managed to clinch what would be a 17th career title on the U.S. Tour.

"I have played really well the last couple of years without winning and what has been most frustrating is that generally my game has been very good," Price told Reuters from Orlando on Tuesday.

"When I get close, in the heat of the battle, maybe my concentration is not quite what it should be. And I think perhaps my short game might have held me back a little over the last few years.

"My putting could be a little better -- I just need to sort out a few odds and ends and correct a few minor mistakes. But I'm virtually there and my most obvious goal is to win again this year."

Price, along with Tiger Woods, was the most successful winner on the U.S. Tour during the 1990s when both players collected 15 titles apiece.

During that time, the popular Zimbabwean won the U.S. PGA championship twice (in 1992 and 1994) and the British Open at Turnberry, also in 1994.

He topped the U.S. money list in 1993 and 1994, was named U.S. Player of the Year on both occasions and finished 1994 as the number one player in the world.

His one Achilles' heel has been his putting but, from tee to green, he remains world-class and has frequently been described by top coach David Leadbetter as the best striker of the ball in the game.

Although Price turns 45 later this month, he still believes he can beat anyone anywhere in the world -- as long as his putting is on song.

"I have always felt that way and I still believe it," he said. "But something else for me to consider nowadays is the effect of modern technology on driving distances.

"I'm now not as long as the other guys, even though I'm hitting it further than I ever have, relatively speaking.

"When I was playing really well, I was in the top 15 on the U.S. Tour length-wise. Now I'm not even in the top 100. The par-fives that I used to be able to get to are longer for me now."

Another factor in the recent absence of Price from the winner's circle has been the amount of time he has spent away from tournament golf.

"These days, I'm not playing quite as much as I used to, as a lot of my time is taken up with my family, with golf course design and golf corporate days.

"I normally like to play in around 30 events each year but in 2000 I played in just 26 and last year it was down to only 22.

"I find it hard to play as much as I want to, but I'm comfortable with that. Yet, even with the amount that I'm playing, I still feel I should be challenging more -- and winning."

Price, whose best U.S. Tour finish last year was joint-third at the Byron Nelson Classic, slipped to 42nd on the 2001 order of merit with earnings of $1,286,756.

He will be aiming to return to winning ways when this week's $4 million Phoenix Open -- the fourth tour stop of the season -- gets underway in Scottsdale, Arizona on Thursday.


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