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Nick Price still searching for fourth major

Nick Price is regarded, and rightfully so, as one of the nicest guys on the PGA Tour.

He is also thought-provoking and incredibly honest in his assessments of both golf and his own game as he approaches his 46th birthday on Jan. 28.

The winner of two PGA Championships and one British Open, Price was probably the best golfer on Tour for much of the 1990s. He claimed 16 titles during that era, plus another 15 around the world.

Last season he topped the $1 million mark in earnings for a ninth time, tying him Davis Love III as the best on Tour in that department. He also finished among the top 50 money-winners on Tour for the 17th consecutive year.

What's on Price's mind these days is how much longer he can compete, and particularly how much longer in the majors.

Ten years ago, Price said, he thought he could have a shot to win one of every four tournaments he entered.

"Nowadays, that's down to about one and eight, maybe one and nine," he said. "If you only play 20 tournaments a year, that gives you maybe two, maybe three chances a year to win. I hope that two or three of those opportunities will be in major championships. That's why I still keep playing right now, is the fact I feel deep down inside I can still win a major championship.

"As soon as that feeling wanes, I think my desire will go a little bit. You know, that's just time. I don't know. Might be this year; might be next year. Certainly to win again this year, to win a major, is right at the top of my list."

Price, who won his 18th Tour title last year in the MasterCard Colonial, did well in three of the four majors last season, tying for 20th in the Masters, eighth in the U.S. Open and 14th in the British Open. He missed the cut in the PGA Championship at Hazeltine when a second-round 77 derailed him.

So where does Price think his best opportunity for a fourth major is?

"I can kiss Augusta good-bye," said the man who, along with Greg Norman, holds the course record of 63 at Bobby Jones' course. "I might as well go fishing that week, to be honest. What they've done with the golf course is basically just said there's going to be maybe seven, eight guys that can win round there now. I'm certainly not one of those. Although, stranger things have happened. I will tee it up there.

"The British Open is really my most obvious opportunity, I think. The last two years I played really well in that."

As it is for many players, the British has had a special place in Price's career. The '82 Open at Troon gave him some of his first fame when he placed second by one shot as Tom Watson won his fourth title. A mustachioed Price came close again in 1988, again placing second, this time to Seve Ballesteros as he captured his third crown.

Ballesteros said at the time that Price would one day have a British Open title of his own. Price fulfilled the prediction of "the Maestro" by winning at Turnberry in '94.

In the U.S. Open, Price's best finish was a solo fourth at Olympic in 1998. He tied for eighth last season at Bethpage Black, but said that sounds better than it actually was.

"It's interesting because the USGA, their comment after the U.S. Open, they were trying to defend their position by saying, 'Well, look who finished in the Top 10,'" Price said. "Scott Hoch, Nick Faldo, myself. Realistically we never had a chance of winning. We all played our tails off to finish in the Top 10. There was no way. We finished eight shots, nine shots, 10 shots back of Tiger's score. No way either one of us could have won.

"If it hadn't been for three of the holes, I think I would have had a chance at winning. There were three holes there that were almost unplayable for me as par holes."

Price has been known for years as one of the best ball-strikers in the game. He can work it left, work it right, hit it straight, whatever the shot demands. What he is not is long off the tee. Last year on Tour, Price averaged 272.7 yards on his drives, ranking him 166th. Bethpage Black, where one fairway didn't start until 250 yards off the tee, was too long not only for Price, but most of the field.

Price has some advice for the USGA, Augusta and the PGA: Look east toward Great Britain for inspiration.

"I think the guys who run the major championships need to look at the R&A," Price said. "The R&A are dealing with golf courses that are a hundred years old. Those courses are still competitive without having to put 50 yards on every tee. There's a message there somewhere.

"The greatest thing about this game is it was always the ultimate test of David versus Goliath. It's not that way. It's rapidly changing. It's moving to all Goliath now. I don't think that's the way golf should be played."

 

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