Faldo still waiting for time to heal one major wound

Published April 2, 2006

Appreciation comes with time. Even Nick Faldo knew that his phenomenal final round at the Masters would not be the story. Not when Greg Norman was the victim of his comeback. And not when the Shark bled all over Augusta National.

Ten years have passed since Norman's Masters meltdown, and still the memory is painful. One of the most popular players in the game seemingly had his hands all over that elusive green jacket. With an opening 63, he tied the course record. He took a six-shot lead into the final round.

It disappeared in 11 holes.

Faldo went on to win by five.

Everyone, of course, remembers Norman's collapse, a 78.

A decade has given them some time to admire Faldo's 67.

"You can call it, cheekily, as good as it gets," said Faldo during a recent interview. "A 67 on concrete is pretty darn good. And under that pressure ... in my book, it's about as good as it gets."

Faldo, 48, who is from England, won the Masters for the third time and it was the last of his six major championships. With the exception of his 1990 British Open title, they were won with the help of a faltering opponent.

But even Faldo acknowledged that this victory was different, given the magnitude of Norman's collapse.

"It was an unusual day. We all know what happened," Faldo said. "It was a hell of an atmosphere going on. It was quite an arena to play in. Augusta is amazing to play in anyway. But when something like that is happening ... it really was quite electric, an unusual atmosphere."

The Shark had endured so many close calls at the Masters, including his wayward approach to the 18th a decade earlier, when Jack Nicklaus won, and his playoff defeat in 1987, when Larry Mize chipped in on him. This was to be his time.

It began to unravel, unbeknownst to Norman or anyone else, when Faldo birdied 18 Saturday. That put him in the final pairing with Norman. Playing head to head with one of the game's all-time steely competitors proved difficult for Norman; had Faldo not birdied, Norman would have played the final round with 25-year-old Phil Mickelson.

"I certainly felt it was important," Faldo said. "You're right there and can see exactly what is going on. You can really respond to the momentum shifts. It was a real bonus."

Faldo knew that he had to attack on a golf course that makes doing so risky. He had to put pressure on Norman at a time in his career when his game was not at the level it had been in winning his five previous majors. And there was no way he could count on such a collapse.

"It was not as natural or spontaneous as when I was winning (two majors) in 1990. '92 was a big effort on Sunday," Faldo said of the British Open. "That time, in '96, I wasn't as comfortable. I didn't have the same sort of confidence. But I knew the process of how to do it. I had to push myself through each shot. That's what I was very proud of. It was the best mental commitment I've ever given over 18 holes."

Faldo made one bogey on the front nine but had three birdies to keep the heat on Norman, whose six-shot advantage was all gone by the time they reached the 12th tee. There, Norman's tee shot went in the water, and he fell behind by two.

Birdies by Faldo at the 13th and 15th holes kept Norman at bay. And when Norman hit his approach in the water at the par-3 16th, it was over, making Faldo's birdie at the 18th anticlimatic.

In an uncommon show of emotion, Faldo hugged Norman and uttered a few words in his ear. He kept what he said a secret for eight years, finally letting out that, in so many words, he told Norman not to let the media or anyone get to him.

"I felt for the guy because I would hate for that happen to me," Faldo said. "People make assumptions, six-shot lead. There are no assumptions at Augusta. My goal was to get within three after nine. And a three-shot lead on the back nine at Augusta is nothing. I genuinely felt for him. I wouldn't want that to happen to me. I've been fortunate. I haven't been scarred by this game."

No, but will he be appreciated for that victory? Will the masses remember Norman's collapse or Faldo's fine play?

"At the end of the day, you look at the scorebook," he said. "In years to come, you see "Faldo, 12 under.' The next best is 7 under. I always say, you know where the tape is. It's at the end of 72 holes."