There are a lot of golf fans who remember with relish the manner with which Sir Nick Faldo defeated Greg Norman in that incredible final round in the 1996 US Masters at Augusta. Faldo on that occasion came back from being six shots behind at the first tee, to win the ‘Green Jacket’ by five shots by the time the two men had finished. Faldo fired a 67, while the hapless Norman shot a six over 78, his worst ever round at Augusta.
It was of course a disaster for Norman, who was destined never to win a Masters title, but the victory for Faldo gave him his sixth ‘Major’ victory and his third at Augusta. The fact that Faldo won however should not have been as big as a surprise as it was, because just a few years earlier in 1990 at St Andrews, Faldo achieved something very similar.
This time Faldo and Norman, who were the top two in the world rankings at the time, went head to head in the third round of the British Open. They were the final pairing on 12 under par and had established a four stroke lead over the rest of the field. However, as early as the first hole, it was clear that Faldo was the less intimidated as he fired a sublime birdie, while Norman, managed to find the brook to bogey, which gave Faldo an immediate two stroke advantage.
By the end of the round, Faldo was out of sight as far as Norman and the rest of the field was concerned. His 67 increased his club house lead to five strokes, while Norman, who seemed to lack confidence when playing next to Faldo, shot a disastrous 76, ten strokes worse than that he fired on the opening two days. He was now nine shots behind and the coveted title he so desperately wanted to win at the ‘Home of Golf’ was lost forever. The scores achieved by both players on that day were very similar to those they would shoot in that infamous last round at Augusta, this time however, Norman was two shots better off.
Faldo went on to win the tournament, scoring 270, an incredible 18 under par, the record for St Andrews at that time; it has of course since been broken by Tiger Woods who shot -19 in 2000. Faldo finished five strokes clear of the late, Payne Stewart and Mark McNulty from Zimbabwe, whose 13 under par scores would have won them any Open Championship played at St Andrews in the previous thirty years. It was Faldo’s second Open Championship, the first coming at Muirfield in 1987 and his third, also at Muirfield in 1992. Norman in fact finished the four rounds in 277 and had to settle for a tie for sixth place, however, the ‘great white shark’ was soon back on the glory trail.
Norman came back in 1993, to win his second Open Championship adding to the one he won at Turnberry in 1986. This time victory came at Royal St George’s, and this time it was his turn to come from behind to topple the leader, none other of course than Nick Faldo, in the final round. Norman fired a brilliant 64, while Faldo, who led going into the final day could only shoot a 67, which gave Norman victory by two strokes but the two were not paired together at this tournament.
Tiger Woods is the only other player in recent times to match Faldo’s three Open titles and the American will be favourite in the Open odds to surpass three wins when he tees off at Royal St George’s for the 2011 Open Championship, especially after Woods showed glimmers of returning to his best Majors form at the Masters in April but until then, it is Faldo’s heroics of the late 80s and early 90s that live in the memory of golf fans at the oldest of the four majors.