GULLANE, Scotland — Fifteen years ago, a very nervous Nick Faldo needed a par 4 on Muirfield’s 18th hole to secure his third British Open Championship. He responded with four shots that could have fit on a carpet running from tee to cup, his 3-iron approach shot nearly hitting the flagstick before rolling 25 feet past it. After rolling his birdie try down near the hole, Faldo shook over the one-footer for victory.
“I don’t think I could have made a three-footer,” he said afterwards, his voice cracking with emotion.
Today, in his Champions Tour debut, an older-but-calmer Faldo birdied the 18th to card a first-round 68 at the Senior British Open. He used a 6-iron for his approach shot, the ball skipping up a few feet from the flag on a green that stretches like a big green tongue from the Muirfield clubhouse.
“That was nice,” Faldo said after his round. “When I looked at that second shot, I thought, right, just squeeze one up close. And I did.” (Click here for updates at europeantour.com.)
Faldo, who turned 50 on July 18, seemed genuinely surprised to be tied for the lead with Gordon Brand, Nick Job and Dave Stockton. As the lead golf analyst for CBS and the Golf Channel, he now spends more time on camera than on the practice range. Time and lack of practice have made his body a less-dependable machine. The rhythms of a tournament round are no longer second-nature.
“You have to walk yourself through it rather than it being automatic,” he said of his preshot routine. “You can’t just stand up and swing.”
Five-time British Open champion Tom Watson, who shot one-under 70 and was paired with Faldo and Mark O’Meara, didn’t think Faldo looked rusty.
“He played great today,” Watson said. “Holed some good putts and took advantage of the conditions. Sixty-eight was a good score, and I think he enjoyed being back here as much as I do.”
In ’92, Faldo cried after the final putt. His explanation: “I’m just an emotional little old petal.”
Today he simply looked happy/tired. And maybe a little relieved.