Nick Faldo at The Open 2015: Faldo in class of own as he bids farewell to Old Course at St Andrews with 'classic sweater' gesture

He donned one of his old sweaters and stopped on the Swilcan Bridge, arms aloft in that familiar pose

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The Independent Online

Danny Willett is only the latest to join the quest to become the first English golfer to win the Open since Nick Faldo 25 years ago. As Willett headed to the top of the leaderboard, the now knighted former champion was propping up the rest.

An 83 in the first round was his worst score in the championship. His days at the Home of Golf did not deserve to end this way. Yet it was hardly a surprise. “You cannot fall out of a TV tower and come and play here and hope. Silly boy,” he said.

“I’m not even a part-time golfer,” he admitted. Playing alongside two live picks for the title, in Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler, only emphasised his status as a former hero. But on Friday there were glimpses of the great champion. A couple of birdies around the turn and then, as he headed back into the town and the vast arena of the closing holes, a long putt from off the green found the hole at the 17th.

The cheers went up and continued as he walked up the 18th – the walk he had done in triumph 25 years ago. He donned one of his old sweaters and stopped on the Swilcan Bridge, arms aloft in that familiar pose. His son Matthew, his caddie, and then his playing partners joined in the traditional photo-call for a departing champion golfer. Thursday could be forgotten, a closing 71 celebrated with a slap on the back from Rose.

Unlike Tom Watson, Faldo had not ruled out more Opens to come – next year at Royal Troon, where he first went to watch his heroes in 1973,  and then Royal Birkdale, where he made his debut three years later.

 

But these were fine moments to add to his memories of Opens at St Andrews. He was 11th, as a 47-year-old, 10 years ago, having secured a seventh-placed finish as a 21-year-old in 1978. His sixth place in 1984 came at a time when he was contending for the biggest titles but not winning them. A complete revamp of his swing under the direction of his coach, David Leadbetter, changed all that.

Three Claret Jugs and three Masters green jackets arrived between 1987 and 1996, making him the most decorated British golfer of modern times. In 1990, he won both those titles, and in between was only a stroke away from playing-off for the US Open.

In those days, Faldo arrived at St Andrews expecting to win. Or at least ready to fight his great rival, Greg Norman, for the title. At the 18th on the first day, his long pitch-and-run found the hole for an eagle, the sort of moment that suggests destiny is at work.

On the Saturday he had the first of his famous head-to-heads with Norman. Tied at the halfway stage, Faldo powered on to a 67, while the Australian limped home with a 76. Six years later an eerily similar duel at Augusta ended with Faldo overhauling a six-shot deficit to beat Norman by five.

Faldo had a five-stroke lead going into the last round in 1990 but was sick with nerves. He knew just what a psychological blow it would be to throw away such an advantage. By the time he came to the last, all that was forgotten. A comfortable victory was assured and he stopped to scratch his spikes into the ancient stone of the Swilcan Bridge, notching himself into the company of all the greats, from the Tom Morrises, Old and Young, on.

Faldo kept himself in a cocoon in his heyday: oblivious to all extraneous activity, so contained that he was a hard man for whom to root. But that was one occasion when he savoured every step up the final fairway, with people hanging out of the windows and off the balconies of the surrounding buildings, the R&A clubhouse the perfect backdrop behind the green.

He was not just the champion golfer of the year but the best in the world – by the distance of one of the grey town’s cobbled streets.

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