Golf: The Open Championship: Faldo's infantry are disappointed

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The Independent Online
AFTER a poor second shot to the 15th in the final round at Muirfield a year ago, Nick Faldo thought his chance of a third Open Championship had gone; he slammed his club into the turf and muttered darkly to his caddie, Fanny Sunesson.

Faldo raised the hopes of his supporters with a birdie at the next, and then came the news that John Cook, from only just failing to make eagle, had three- putted the 17th. Faldo birdied again to beat Cook by one shot; his remarkable consistency had paid off.

This time, on his 36th birthday, it did not quite work. Faldo shot 67, but the man up ahead did not crack. Making nonsense of the notion that his nerve has the consistency of an eggshell, Greg Norman, who began the tournament with a double-bogey, went on and on, cheers for his efforts reaching Faldo on the wind.

Faldo sounded better in second place than he has done in first. Last year, he went on and on, emotional, rambling. He forgot to mention Cook. This year, he did not take up much of the audience's time. 'Thank you for your tremendous support,' he said.

He said other things on the course but not in earshot of the galleries. In Faldo's mind, a bad shot is one that finishes marginally off line. There were a few of those, and his irritation showed in grimaces and the passing of a hand through his hair.

'There were some things that didn't please me, things that I'll get around to working on,' he said characteristically.

A great crowd of supporters set off with him from the first tee like medieval infantry on the move, and a birdie at the second brought a great cheer. 'Come on Nick, you're the man,' they shouted, not all of them golfers, some just there to wave the flag. A shot went at the fourth and Norman was abreast of him. At the fifth, a birdie opportunity, he drove into a bunker and found the rough after failing to come out cleanly. He glowered.

After the third round, Norman looked and sounded relaxed. On reflection, he was the best thing in the parade ring. Faldo, the favourite, found things to complain about: the pin placings, his own shot-making. This is not unusual but it should have told us something. Maybe the idea of becoming the first modern golfer to win back- to-back Opens was getting to him. In expectation, one popular Sunday newspaper had even suggested that he should be knighted.

When Faldo reached the turn, Norman was ahead by two shots. In a round of championship golf played at today's standards, the Australian could not think of it as a comfortable cushion, but it had the effect of forcing Faldo to play a catch-up game. It is not in his nature to play boldly, however he could no longer take heart from Norman's reputation.

A good example came immediately after Faldo almost holed in one at the par-three 11th. Before he lined up a birdie putt, a roar came from up ahead. Norman had birdied the 12th. When Faldo reached it, he spent an age replacing his ball on the green as though trying to balance it on a pin head. He missed from four feet. Another groan.

A word soon passed quickly through the galleries. Norman, from 10 feet, was putting to save par on the 15th. He made it.

This was not how Faldo's followers imagined things would work out. Given a sub-par round, they were confident. They had reckoned without Norman's sustained brilliance. 'Come on Nick, you can still do it,' they shouted when Faldo fired his second to the heart of the 15th green. Good, very good, but not good enough.

There was a flicker of hope when word came via transistor radios and hand-held television sets that Norman had bogeyed from two feet. But that was it. On the 18th tee, seeking a miracle, Faldo hooked his shot up against railings on the left side of the fairway. He took a free drop and made par. In par there was pride. It was all he had left.

Now there were only words. 'I'm happy for Greg because he's been through a lot over the past couple of years,' he said. Faldo passed a hand through his hair and made off with the prize for second place. 'I'm not that disappointed,' he said, but you could see that he was.