Ian Wood reports on a second Open win for Englishman
The Scotsman, 23 July 1990
AMID scenes of tumult and massive acclaim, Nick Faldo of England holed out for his par on the Tom Morris Green of the Old Course, St Andrews, to win the 119th Open with a total of 270 – the lowest aggregate of any championship held at the home of golf.
His closing 71 followed rounds of 67, 65 and 67 and took him to 18 under par, which wiped out Tom Watson’s old mark of 13 under set at Muirfield in 1980. The 1987 champion becomes the first British golfer to win the title more than once since three-times champion Henry Cotton.
Faldo began the day five shots clear of a field comprising the cream of world golf and finished with that margin intact. Behind him, the pack shuffled itself furiously, but with a tremendous display of disciplined golf and mental fortitude, he took refuge in par golf when the pressure was on the others to come at him. Shades of Muirfield.
From the sixth to the fourteenth, he shot nine straight regulation figures before ending the sequence with a birdie at the fifteenth at which point he virtually secured the championship. The seventeenth – which continued its dire business to the bitter end – was negotiated in five shots but by then he was well able to afford it.
Over the four rounds that was only his fourth bogey, which represents remarkable shot-making over a course which has brought torment to every other player at some time in the course of the week. He visited one bunker and had no three-putts.
Faldo was followed home by Payne Stewart, the US PGA champion, who at one time closed to within two shots of the leader before the remorseless march of par saw him off, and Mark McNulty of Zimbabwe who signed off with a 65 to tie the American on 275. Throughout the day, Craig Parry of Australia, Ian Woosnam of Wales, Jodie Mudd and Peter Jacobsen all made their moves and all were repulsed.
When it was over, Faldo, seated comfortably with the famous old Claret Jug glinting at his elbow (he also received a cheque for £85,000) spoke of every golfer’s dream – to win an Open at St Andrews – and a couple exclusive to him. After failing by one shot to make the play-off in the US Open at Medinah, he’d said: “I’m going to win at St Andrews.” He’d then had his two dreams – the one that he would lead by five shots after three rounds, and the other that he’d come up the last fairway on the last day four shots ahead. In the event, he had five in hand when he made the triumphal march, but he had stopped counting by that time.
“When my lead was cut to two (by Stewart’s birdie at the twelfth) it was pretty scary. If I’d caught one of those bunkers out there, things could have been tricky. I just tried to stay relaxed.”
He had come to the championship in good fettle, for when his coach, David Leadbetter, checked him over, there was only one thing to work on with his swing. “Usually, there are lots of points to be dealt with, but this time all I had to concentrate on was slowing down my leg action and getting my upper body working better.”
Paying tribute to his indefatigable caddie, Fanny Sunesson, the 33-year-old Faldo explained that her enthusiasm keeps him going. “She’s a good, bubbly character and she knows how to keep me relaxed. Today she was asking me how many bedrooms there were in my new house and was I going to have a dog. All this while I’m sweating it out. She knows what she’s doing and it’s a great help.”
As if all this wasn’t enough, it was Faldo’s 63-year-old mother’s birthday and he hinted that a refreshment might be taken before the day was out, what with one thing and another.
The character of the championship had changed dramatically from the moment in Saturday’s third round when Faldo holed a 15-foot putt at the first for a birdie and Greg Norman failed from close range to take a bogey at the second. The two had been joint overnight leaders, but suddenly Faldo was two shots clear and it soon became apparent that the duel which had been anticipated between the world’s two top-ranked players was not to be.
Norman’s putter remained stubbornly uncooperative while Faldo went from strength to strength and when the Australian dropped off the leader board at eight under par for the championship, the gap between the two men – the Englishmen was round in 67 – was nine shots.
Faldo’s three-round total of 199 was a championship record. Norman’s 76 on the day was another body blow to a man who, for all his immense power and ability, is finding victory in major tournaments difficult to come by.
“This course can come back and eat you” he’d warned after the searing golf of Friday’s second round had left Faldo and himself splendidly isolated in a seemingly impregnable cocoon of excellence. One wonders now whether that was sage prophesy or chill premonition. Saturday was a day when Paul Broadhurst and Payne Stewart set an early pace with a 63, Ian Baker-Finch picked it up with a 64 having gone out in 29, as had Broadhurst, and Payne Stewart added his third successive 68 and must have wondered why he was five shots off the lead in the championship.
Stewart said then that someone would have to come out of the pack to get Faldo, for the Englishman wasn’t about to make any mistakes. Suiting the action to the words yesterday, Stewart picked up five birdies over the first 12 holes and the gap had been closed to two shots, for Faldo had made no birdies round the loop. A 5 at the next, however, checked the American’s momentum and he ran out of steam with weary bogeys at the seventeenth and eighteenth.
Ian Woosnam, who has blown hot and cold all week, did it again yesterday, flaring for a while with an outward 33 but running into trouble on the way home, where a 6 at the fourteenth and a 5 at the seventeenth took their toll.
Craig Parry, who had loitered in the wings throughout, finally ran into a sort of sandstorm, starting with a crippling visit to the Beardies on the fourteenth which cost him a 7 and staggering home by way of several more bunkers.
The Australian, Ian Baker-Finch, whose hopes in the 1984 Open here perished in the Swilcan at the first, got over this time – “If I’ve learned anything, it’s to take a club more at the first” – but though he got his 4, pars were not good enough for Faldo’s pursuers yesterday, the man himself nailing a birdie on the hole in a positive opening thrust.
Earlier in the week, Jack Nicklaus was asked if he could see any player coming along capable of dominating the scene as had he and Palmer. He said he thought someone would emerge eventually and that while Faldo was a likely contender he would have to believe in himself in order to do it.
There has been no lack of self-belief about Faldo in this Championship. He has looked in control of his game and of himself. He has now won four major titles in the space of four years. After his Leadbetter-inspired win at Muirfield, this year has seen him win his second successive US Masters.
He is now being measured by the very highest standards and when it is considered how close he came in last month’s US Open and that the US PGA championship is still to come, it has to be concluded that a Grand Slam situation was very close. As it is, a win at Shoal Creek next month would make Faldo the first man since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win these same three majors – US Masters, Open and US PGA – in the same year.
The Englishman has had his problems with Scots – indeed problems with Scots at St Andrews – in the past, but this time he was given their full-throated approval. They can be a cruel lot at times, but they know a golfer when they see one.