He has no time for “if.”
“If?” Nick Faldo practically spat the word out. He was pointed toward the parking lot under a full head of steam. A car waited. He fixed his questioner with a sideways glance.
If he hadn’t misread the putt at No. 1. If the putts at Nos. 5 and 6 hadn’t popped out of the hole. If the one at 7 hadn’t squeezed by on the left. If Faldo had shot 66 Sunday, he would have won a fourth British Open.
But mostly this: If Faldo hadn’t come from six strokes back to catch Greg Norman on the last day at the Masters, sealing the deal on one of the most improbable comebacks ever, no one would have expected him to do it again.
“If,” Faldo repeated, slowing his pace for a moment. He considered the possibilities, but only briefly.
“If means absolutely nothing to me.”
But losing did. And to get a sense of how deeply, you had to see the Englishman afterward.
Not after Lehman rolled in a 3-footer at the last hole to secure his first major. Faldo was all graciousness then. He clapped Lehman on the back, whispered, “You deserve it,” then moved to the side of the green so the Yank could have the stage and the thunderous applause to himself.
And you would have had no sense of Faldo’s disappointment if you’d seen him in the interview room afterward. He was all business then.
“I had a bad run at 5, 6 and 7. It was tough to get some confidence going after that,” he said. “I had so many chances.”
But that took nothing away from Lehman.
“He played … sensibly,” Faldo said, his need for precision satisfied by his choice of words. “He made some good third shots to recover from some tough situations. … He managed his game superbly. “But yesterday,” Faldo said, “was the real key to this Open.”
To really know the depth of Faldo’s disappointment, you had to see him sitting alone in a far corner of the locker room at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. There he was, eyes closed, shoulders slumped, forearms resting across his thighs - until he realized he wasn’t alone.
“My game was 90 percent. The other 10 percent …,” he said, then let his voice trail off.
The other 10 percent, the putting was - to borrow one of Faldo’s favorite phrases - bloody awful. He has almost everything golf can offer - a half-dozen majors, fame and fortune - yet he always wants more. And what he wants more than almost anything else is what Jack Nicklaus had at the height of his powers: a presence so intimidating that beating him head to head becomes unthinkable. And until this Sunday, he was close.
How close? For all the great shots Faldo hit Sunday at Augusta to crush Norman - both body and soul - the most important might have been struck on Saturday, when his birdie at the 17th ensured he was paired with the Australian on that fateful last day.
And so when Faldo made birdie at No. 17 here on Saturday to gain a place alongside Lehman - albeit six strokes behind - it made Faldo and Lehman and pretty much all of England consider the possibilities. And it was tribute to Faldo’s skills that most of them did more than just consider.
Lehman, in fact, spent almost as much time Saturday discussing Faldo’s intimidation factor as he did his own round. He talked about Faldo’s purposeful stride, his powers of concentration, the way he carried himself.
“Like he’s the only golfer out on the course,” Lehman said.
Faldo had that look when Sunday began, knocking his first iron shot 7 feet below the pin for birdie. But he missed that, then missed three others from that distance or closer by the time he walked off the seventh green in disgust.
With each one, Faldo’s bearing became less regal, less fearsome, even less assured. With each one, Lehman drew another breath and a little more courage.
“It’s easy to see why he’s won so many major championships,” Lehman said afterward, when his round of 73 had proved good enough. “With the swing he has, the heart he has, the way he plays almost makes you feel inadequate.
“Nick was an absolute pleasure to play with,” he concluded. “He was a gentleman.”
Most golfers would consider that a compliment. Faldo might, too - if only he were somebody else.
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