GULLANE, Scotland (Reuters) - Nick Faldo is a part-time golfer these days but he showed on Monday the fire still burns as strong as it did in his heyday by saying it would haunt him to mess up a chance to win the 142nd British Open.
The six-times major champion, back in competitive action this week for the first time since the 2010 Open at St Andrews, has been drawn to play alongside fellow ‘golden oldies’ Tom Watson and Fred Couples in the opening two rounds.
Watson almost achieved a golfing miracle at Turnberry in 2009. A par at the 72nd hole would have given him a major victory at the age of 59 but a bogey meant he had to go through a playoff with American compatriot Stewart Cink that the veteran eventually lost.
”That could have been the greatest sporting achievement of all time,“ Faldo told reporters at Muirfield. ”I would be scarred from that if I had a putt to win the Open, even at 59.
”Tom is a very strong man. He probably wouldn’t let on but that would scar me so I‘m going to avoid having a putt to win.
“I‘m either going to win by six or be stuck in the hay somewhere,” he laughed, referring to the penal rough at the Scottish links course.
Realistically, Faldo’s target this week will be to simply make the cut.
The Briton, winner of the Open at Muirfield in 1987 and 1992 and at St Andrews in 1990, is now a full-time television commentator in the United States and has only played 35 rounds of golf in the last two years.
“When you come here and see the test they have prepared...you start getting ideas of survival, of how close to the cut you could get,” said Faldo.
”If I could be relatively competitive that would be impressive for a guy who hasn’t hit a competitive shot for three years.
“If I‘m feeling intense on Thursday I’ll go and talk to Tom. If I want to feel relaxed I’ll go and talk to Freddie. But it would be quite an achievement if I could hover close to making the cut.”
Faldo, who turns 56 on Thursday, was in bubbly mood and seemed happy to be back in the cut and thrust of tour golf.
”About two months ago I was in my gym at home and I thought, ‘You’re just strong enough to have a go’,“ he said. ”It might be the last chance I get to walk with fellow Open champions so I said I‘m going to go for it.
”I’ve bumped into my old physio and he started poking about on my shoulder. I’ve bumped into Justin Rose’s sports psychologist and I’ve gleaned a few gems there.
“These kids, they’ve got it all now, and I‘m really enjoying that. We were still searching back in my time.”
Faldo looks as trim and fit as he did during his glory years and he has even worked on a course strategy with his former caddie Fanny Sunesson.
“You have to know where you’re going to land it on this course, where the next bounce is and where the run is,” he explained.
“Fanny stayed with me last night and that’s what we worked out so well in 1992, where to land the ball 20 yards short of the green, which way it would kick and obviously where it would stop. That’s part of the calculations.”
The major championship calculations have gone awry recently for world number one Tiger Woods, who is this week looking to end a five-year wait to win one of golf’s big four prizes, while second-ranked Rory McIlroy has struggled for form all season.
”We know what’s been happening to Rory, he’s still testing new clubs and has had a lot going on,“ said Faldo. ”Tiger is in a different mode where he’s winning regular tournaments but he gets to the majors and something happens.
“The self belief you have to have, maybe there’s a little dent in there. He hits the wrong shot at the wrong time where before Tiger would hit the right shot at the right time.”
Faldo could not resist the temptation to have a gentle dig at the modern generation of players.
“We had Seve (Ballesteros), Greg (Norman), Nick Price, Freddie Couples was there, (Jose Maria) Olazabal and (Bernhard) Langer, we were a pretty good era,” said the Englishman.
“If you brought us to now we’d beat this lot easy and we’d look better doing it,” laughed Faldo.
Editing by Toby Davis