"Nick hits a pretty ball off the tee, but it doesn't have a lot of pop," says Hulbert. "He swings a driver like a five-iron, and as big as he is, it would be neat to see him go ahead and rip it." Adds Faldo's coach, David Leadbetter, "I think Nick probably has more slow-twitch muscle fibers, like a long distance runner, as opposed to someone like Greg Norman, whose move is more explosive."
So far in America, Faldo has been far from a ball-striking genius, ranking only 31st in greens hit in regulation. His stats indicate that when he wins, it is from the elimination of mistakes. That's a style that has won him five majors and may win him more in the future. But it's also a style that is difficult to win with in regular events, when it usually takes double-digit under-par figures to win. Faldo's early-season stats indicate that the fact that he has won only once in more than 100 appearances on the regular PGA Tour, at Hilton Head in 1984, is not just a quirk of fate.
Faldo's diametric opposite in style, Fred Couples, has been, as usual, an enigma. After finishing dead last in the official season-ending Tour Championship in October, Couples embarked on a series of six unofficial events, winning five. Then, after finishing a ho-hum tie for fifth at the Mercedes Championships in January, Couples went to Dubai and Manila for big appearance-fee, European tour events. Naturally, he won both of them.
As Couples was finishing 19th at Los Angeles, he tried to explain why he seems to get in zones when he is away from his home tour. "The PGA Tour just builds on you," he said. "A lot of times if you don't succeed, you just pick on yourself. But in the second season you just show up and play. If you don't play well, you sit in the sun for a week."
Still, Couples looks ready to play the way he did in late 1991 and early 1992, when he won the Masters. He is healthy, having overcome back problems that sidelined him last year, and happy, having put his divorce behind him and settled in Dallas with his significant other, Tawnya Dodd. In addition, he loves St. Andrews, the site of the British Open, and Riviera, where the PGA will be played.
Couples, predictably, is downplaying such projections. "When I lived in Palm Springs," he said, "George Brett would come over with a piece of paper each winter. It would say 'two majors, three Tour wins and the money title.' I'd just sit there and laugh."
Doing very little laughing is John Daly. In fact, Daly's relatively solemn it not unfriendly demeanor since starting the year after a four-month leave of absence from the Tour prompted one longtime Tour official to comment, "You know, I never see John laugh."
Coming into Los Angeles, Daly had little to be happy about in his game, having finished last in Hawaii and having missed the cut in Tucson and Phoenix as well as in one tournament in Australia. He returned to the Tour in January after not having touched a club for two months, and the effects of his long layoff have been lingering. Before the Nissan he was 158th on the Tour in scoring, with an average of 73.46, and was ranked 156th in greens in regulation. He was his customary first in driving distance but customarily well down in driving accuracy, hitting 50% of the fairways to rank 163rd.
But at Riviera, Daly opened the tournament by driving the 311-yard, par-4 10th hole and sinking a 12-footer for an eagle on his way to a 67. From there, though, he played unevenly, shooting a two-under 282 to finish 41st.
At 28, Daly is a recovering alcoholic who two months ago got married for the third time, to Paulette Dean, who is expecting their baby in May. Although his game is still the most explosive ever seen, Daly's enthusiasm for the game seems to have waned, and he doesn't appear to know how to get it back.