Ken Jones: Faldo runs out of legs but courage makes him real life contender again

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Somewhere between the terrific shot at 17 last Friday that secured his place for the weekend and teeing off in his third round, Nick Faldo arrived at the conclusion that he could still play golf. In his own mind Faldo became competitive again. "Until I made the cut I wasn't sure,'' he said. "Then everything changed.''

The transformation came on Saturday. Suddenly, he was no longer one of yesterday's men but, at 46, a real life contender, shooting 67 to enter the final day at four over, very much in contention. "You never know,'' he said. "As long as nobody runs away with it, I could be in with a chance.''

From the moment Faldo set off shortly after mid-day yesterday, his widespread popularity was clearly evident in the size of the gallery that followed him and the applause he received. "Come on Nick, they cried.'' Age came into the equation but not in any negative sense. Jack Nicklaus won the last of his 18 major championships at 46, a mark Faldo reached on Friday, so why not another for the three-time Open winner.

As others of his generation fell away or were unable to sustain a challenge, Faldo remained in the picture, picking up two shots to reach the turn at two over, the Championship still in his sight.

In conditions considerably cooler than the previous day, when the temperature at Sandwich soared into the eighties, Greg Norman was unable to maintain the form that recalled his victory at Royal St George's in 1993, when he closed with one of the most memorable rounds in Open history. His chances more or less ruined by a second-round 79, Norman finished with a 68 that met his expectations. "I haven't played much this year but it was exciting to feel that I was performing at my peak. It can be uncomfortable out there but it also rewards a guy who has the courage to play positively whether it's a full shot, a punch shot or a chip.''

Faldo faithfully stuck to the policy Norman recommended, causing a great cheer to go up when he eagled the par-five seventh after making birdie two holes earlier. The disappointment of a dropped shot at the next did not deter him. Two more birdies, at the 11th and 14th, put him at even par for the tournament and raised the excitement that surrounded his progress. But, like a boxer running out of legs deep into a contest, he then got hit with back-to-back bogeys. There were enough red figures around by then to drop Faldo down the leaderboard and direct attention elsewhere.

Afterwards, could not avoid conveying a sense of disappointment. Time waits for no athlete but for some it slows respectfully to a crawl. Another year. Another chance. Who knows? Faldo recalled looking at a scoreboard and finding himself only one shot off the lead. "I thought 'Wait a minute, I'm still in this', then shortly afterwards I was told that [Ben] Curtis had gone five under. That's when my legs got heavier. At my age stamina gets to be a problem.''

Faldo could still hear the roar of the crowd. For four days they cheered him and his march up the 18th fairway brought a standing ovation. "I've had 72 great walks,'' he said. "The crowds were simply tremendous, made me tingle.'' If Faldo was prevented from becoming the leading British player by Brian Davis, who closed with a 68 to finish two over, it had been a memorable week for him.

For the five-time Open winner Tom Watson it turned out to be another almost week. Almost playing well. "The first day I was three under par and went double-bogey, bogey, and that was a sour way to complete a round. I deserved every one of those setbacks. It was typical links golf, it takes a lot of imagination, a lot of feel. It's been very good for my game, kept me focused. But I always come off this course feeling that I can't play a lick. It just beats me to death. It's pretty much the only one that does that to me.''

Going off at six over, Ernie Els needed to make an early move if his defence of the Championship was to remain significant. The first is a tricky hole and it caught out the South African. An opening bogey was more than he could afford. From there it wasn't one thing or another. He went from birdie to bogey. To birdie and back again, switchback scoring that kept him no better than six over. He had an unblemished back nine but by then nobody was paying much attention.

Of eight past Open champions in the final round, John Daly disappeared without trace, returning a four-round total of 303, exactly that of the 1911 Royal St George's winner, Harry Vardon. Vardon played in a waistcoat and jacket. Tom Lehman finished 11 over, Nick Price three shots better off.

The surprise winner, Ben Curtis, is 26. That was good for golf, good for the Open, but not for the older generation.