July 16, 2013 in Sports

Sir Nick takes one last shot at Muirfield

Faldo hasn’t played a competitive round since St. Andrews in 2010
Paul Newberry Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Nick Faldo kisses claret jug after winning the British Open at Muirfield, Scotland, in 1987.
(Full-size photo)

GULLANE, Scotland – If given the option, Nick Faldo would prefer not to be standing over a putt to win the British Open.

“I’m either going to win by six,” Sir Nick joked Monday, “or be stuck in the hay somewhere.”

There’s a lot better chance of the latter happening.

Faldo is grabbing the clubs again for what will surely be his final Open, though his chances of being the latest 50-something player to make a serious run at the claret jug are beyond improbable.

He hasn’t played a truly competitive round since his last Open at St. Andrews in 2010, hasn’t played much at all over the last three years. But Faldo couldn’t resist the chance to celebrate his birthday – he turns 56 on Thursday, the day of the opening round – at a course that means so much to him.

Faldo won the first of his major titles at Muirfield in 1987. Five years later, he added his name to the claret jug again at the very same place.

Both times, he won by a stroke, with a par on the 72nd hole.

“Wow, I’ve got a very special place here – the 18th green at Muirfield,” Faldo said. “That won in my heart and my mind.”

While making the cut is probably about the best he can hope for, Faldo has relished the process of trying to get his game – and his body – back in shape to be somewhat competitive with players half his age.

He’s been rehabbing his ailing left shoulder. He’s been working on his swing with those high-tech gadgets that weren’t around in his prime. He chatted up Gio Valiante, the sports psychologist for new U.S. Open champion Justin Rose. He figured he was done after that last Open at St. Andrews, where he shot 81 on a windy second day and didn’t come close to making the cut.

“I didn’t enjoy that,” he said.

But that all changed when Faldo was doing a commercial shoot a few months ago, in which he was asked to talk about his favorite courses. At first, he thought of the coastline at Pebble Beach, the towering pines at Augusta National, the history and atmosphere at St. Andrews. Then, he remembered Muirfield.

“That maybe sowed some seeds,” he said. Later, “I was in my gym at home, and I thought at the time, ‘You’re just strong enough to have a go.’ It might be the last chance I get to walk with fellow Open champions. And so I kind of said, ‘OK, I’m going to go for it.’ ”

Faldo is paired in the first two rounds with Fred Couples and five-time Open champion Tom Watson.

“I’m delighted with my draw,” Faldo said. “If I’m feeling intense, I’ll go and talk to Tom. If I want to feel relaxed, I’ll talk to Freddie. That’s a great threesome.”

In 2009, a few months shy of his 60th birthday, Watson nearly became the oldest major champion in history. He led going to the 72nd hole at Turnberry, only to make a bogey and lose in a playoff to Stewart Cink.

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