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Unprepared Mark James set for Allianz title defence

England's Mark James arrived to defend his title at the Allianz Championship this week feeling unprepared.

This could be bad news for his fellow competitors.

A year ago, James arrived at Broken Sound Club off three weeks of skiing at his vacation home in the French Alps barely having touched a club. And yet he played his best golf of the year here, beating Champions Tour Player of the Year Jay Haas by two shots.

James spent three weeks in the Alps again this past month, but this time he intended to be better prepared.

James returned from skiing to his home in West Yorkshire last Tuesday, hoping to get in a few days of practice before flying off to the United States.

"I hit balls Tuesday afternoon in 45 mph winds," James said. "It was raining and cold and that was the best day of the week. It was pointless. I hit some putts on the carpet, and that was it. The weather has been unbelievably vile back home."

James, 54, is a fast starter who likes Florida. Two of his three victories on this tour were his first starts of the year, both in Florida. He also won The Ace Group Classic in Naples to start the 2005 season.

The funny thing about James is that he doesn't get to play the Bermuda grasses Florida offers much beyond tournaments in South Africa, but he thrives on them.

Odder yet, he doesn't consider himself a good putter but is more comfortable putting on Bermuda grasses than most other surfaces. Typically, players who grow up in northern climates playing bent grasses struggle reading the grain in Bermuda greens.

"On Bermuda greens, the ball sits higher," James said. "I like it when the ball sits higher. I get a better roll."

James, seven times a European Ryder Cup member and captain of the 1999 squad, is hoping to get off to another good start this season and sustain his momentum. Despite his win last year, James barely retained his fully exempt playing privileges, finishing 26th on the money list. He needed a strong finish to rank among the top 30 who retained their tour cards. Champions Tour pros only gain a year exemption with a victory, beginning with the week of that win.

"To start with a win was big, and my confidence was high, and I played really well the following week," James said. "I was really optimistic, but after that I had problems."

James will be hoping to get his putter on track quickly this week. Over the years, he has dabbled with long putters and belly putters and experimented with some untraditional grips. He says he once built his own long putter in his garage back in the '70s and was among the first players on pro tours to use the belly putter back in the early '90s. He's putting this week with a conventional grip on a Craz-E One putter, a 34-inch putter with a square head that looks like a garden tool.

"Easy to line up, suitable for people with limited putting ability, like me," James said.

Don't be fooled. His tour brethren won't be underestimating his ability to win back-to-back Allianz titles.


February 7, 2008

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