GO FOR THE THROAT NICK FALDO KNEW WHAT HE HAD TO DO WHEN A THIRD GREEN JACKET WAS WITHIN HIS REACH

April 21, 1996

Head-to-head championship golf is a bloodless sport grounded in
the goriest truths. Its deadliest warriors are methodical,
emotionless stalkers with a cruel instinct for the pending
implosion of a fellow competitor and a cold surety that majors
are lost far more often than they are won. The alltime exemplar
has been Jack Nicklaus. But in the last decade, no one has
mastered this approach the way Nick Faldo has.

On Sunday in the climactic moments of the 60th Masters, Faldo
girded himself in his steel-tempered technique and iron resolve
to become a final-round leader's worst nightmare. By the quality
of his shots and a demeanor that has withstood, and often
thrived in, golf's tensest moments, the 38-year-old Englishman
made it clear that the six-stroke lead with which Greg Norman
started would not be upheld with anything less than first-rate
golf.

As well as Norman had played for 54 holes, the target that Faldo
saw in his crosshairs was a player under enormous stress. He
knew that Norman not only wanted desperately to win the major
championship he most covets but that he was also under added
pressure because everyone expected him to protect a seemingly
insurmountable lead. Although Norman will have to deal with the
fact that the physical and mental fortifications he has built
into his game to make himself the best player in the world
ultimately crumbled, his fourth-round 78 should not be viewed
with shame. Norman was pushed down a slippery slope to disaster
by the most intense pressure a player can face: a golf course
specifically designed to victimize someone in his position and,
most of all, a classic final-round performance by a savvy and
relentless opponent.

"I was in control, which is the big thrill," a deeply satisfied
Faldo said afterward. "I hit all the shots where I intended to
hit them on the day it had to be done."

As disconsolate as he was, Norman had to acknowledge that, just
as he has buried others, so was he overwhelmed. "That's golf,"
he said simply. "I'll wake up tomorrow morning, and I'll
breathe, I hope."

Faldo's 67 for a 72-hole total of 276 was carried out with the
dispassion of an executioner. It included only one bogey as well
as putts for birdie or eagle on all but one hole, and was the
lowest round of the weekend. For Norman to have won outright, he
would have needed a respectable 72.

Most important, Faldo's round contained the ruthless opportunism
reminiscent of other seemingly impossible comebacks, such as the
one in the 1966 U.S. Open by Billy Casper, who rallied from
seven strokes behind Arnold Palmer on the final nine. Like
Casper, Faldo stayed maddeningly within striking distance of a
player who wouldn't have been human if he hadn't been half
expecting a cakewalk. Faldo gradually created so much discomfort
that Norman, the game's most consistent performer, cracked.

After chipping three strokes off the lead on the first seven
holes, Faldo began planting his daggers. When Norman saved par
on the 8th hole after hitting his second shot into the trees,
his apparent psychic victory was turned into a defeat because
Faldo topped him with a 20-footer from the fringe for a birdie
that cut the lead to three. When Norman, who had lost another
stroke with a bogey at 9, pulled an eight-iron approach at the
par-4 10th, Faldo patiently put his nine-iron shot on the green,
which induced Norman to play a sloppy chip and bogey again.
After Norman showed real frailty by missing a 2 1/2-foot putt
for par on the 11th that squandered the final stroke of his
lead, Faldo delivered a merciless body blow to his gasping
adversary on the 155-yard 12th by drilling a majestic seven-iron
over Rae's Creek to within 15 feet. The shot carried such
authority that there was little surprise when a shaken Norman
put his own seven-iron shot into the water with the same kind of
weak block to the right that has derailed him in past major
championships.

It was at this point that Faldo began to take command. Although
he held a two-stroke lead, the turnaround had been almost too
sudden for him to feel in control. "I knew that now I had the
pressure," he said, "I had to be careful." After hitting only an
average drive on the 485-yard, par-5 13th, Faldo watched Norman,
from a poor lie in pine needles to the right of the fairway,
reluctantly lay up short of the creek fronting the green.
Although a mistake could mean blowing his hard-earned advantage,
a strong instinct told Faldo to go for the green. With 206 yards
to carry to the front, he pulled out a five-wood but didn't like
the way the head sat behind the ball off his sidehill lie. After
cogitating for more than a minute, Faldo finally took out his
two-iron, leaving himself almost no margin for error. "I had to
button it," said Faldo. "If I don't hit it solid, it's in the
water. But I felt good, so I obeyed that feeling."

What ensued was a purely struck line drive that will rank with
the best shots Faldo has ever hit. It carried on the green to
within 30 feet of the pin, and from there he two-putted to match
Norman's scrambling birdie. Faldo's two-iron made the statement
that while Norman may have handed over his lead with blunders,
Faldo had seized it in the vice grip of his flawless game. "That
was the whole shooting match," said Norman. Five cleanly played
holes later, Faldo had an amazing five-stroke victory and the
satisfaction of a man whose lifework and passion have been
perfectly applied to the kind of moment for which he lives.
Although being the prime force in the destruction of another
man's dream caused Faldo to show compassion for Norman by
embracing him on the 18th green, there had been no sentiment in
his play. "Once I realized that Greg was in trouble, I was just
getting harder," said Faldo, "just doing everything a little bit
better. The pressure was immense."

It always is in major-championship golf, Faldo's specialty. His
third Masters victory--all come-from-behind operations--gave him
his sixth major, tying him with Sam Snead and Lee Trevino, and
putting him one ahead of Seve Ballesteros, James Braid, Byron
Nelson, J.H. Taylor and Peter Thomson. It means only nine
players in history have more professional majors than Faldo:
Jack Nicklaus with 18, Walter Hagen with 11, Ben Hogan and Gary
Player with nine, Tom Watson and Palmer with eight and Bobby
Jones, Gene Sarazen and Harry Vardon with seven.

Faldo has passed the charismatic Ballesteros, long considered
Europe's most significant modern-day player, in much the same
way Nicklaus supplanted Palmer. Among tour pros under the age of
45, only Nick Price has won as many as three majors, while
Norman, Ben Crenshaw, John Daly and Sandy Lyle are next with
two. Clearly, Faldo has now separated himself as his era's
dominant player. "I wish I'd won what Nick Faldo's won," said an
admiring Norman, who has 70 victories around the world compared
with Faldo's 38, "but I haven't."

Other than Faldo's first major, the 1987 British Open at
Muirfield, his victory on Sunday was his most unexpected. Faldo
has been missing from golf's top echelon for most of the last
two years. Although he has been noteworthy for changing his base
from Europe to America last season and joining the PGA Tour, for
recently leaving Gill, the mother of his three children, for
21-year-old former University of Arizona golfer Brenna Cepelak
and for scoring a crucial singles victory against Curtis Strange
in the Ryder Cup, as a performer on the world stage Faldo has
been second rung. Since reaching his peak with a victory at the
1992 British Open at Muirfield--where he squandered a
four-stroke lead in the final round before gathering himself
over the last four holes--Faldo has been overshadowed first by
Price, and in the last two years, by Norman. Coming into the
Masters, he had dropped to an alarming ninth on the Sony World
Ranking, far behind Norman and No. 2 Colin Montgomerie of
Scotland. Before Sunday his last victory of any kind had come
more than a year ago when he edged Norman at Doral.

Then again, Faldo has always used regular tournaments as
tune-ups for the majors, an approach that, given the results,
can hardly be faulted. Beginning in 1984, he and David
Leadbetter rebuilt his swing so that it would hold up in the
game's greatest tests, and the work paid off at Muirfield in
1987. Faldo soon began an amazing run in majors, starting with
his playoff loss to Strange at the U.S. Open at Brookline in
1988. From that event until the PGA Championship of 1992,
Faldo's worst finish in 19 majors was a tie for 19th at the 1990
PGA. The streak included four victories and six other finishes
of fourth or better. It was a period in which Faldo routinely
began the year declaring that his primary goal was to win all
four of the season's majors, a never-achieved professional Grand
Slam. Although Faldo in 1993 finished third at the British Open
and second at the PGA, his game had begun to drift. In 1994 he
missed the cut at the U.S. Open, and last year, despite having
moved to America in large part to better prepare for the big
events, he hit a wall. His best finish in a major was a tie for
24th at Augusta.

It took awhile, but Faldo lost his aura. As he had been in 1984,
when he lost his game after making the commitment to change his
swing, he was second-guessed. Many questioned an approach that
seemed to put tremendous store in swing mechanics. Others
wondered if Faldo had become overly analytical and too dependent
on Leadbetter. Both men disagreed, contending that most of their
work was simple maintenance and that Faldo was mostly a feel
player with a soft, natural motion whose greatest strength was
an innate sense for hitting the ball the proper distance.

"You can't win any golf tournament without feel and half-shots,"
says Faldo, who in the last few months has cut down on the
number of practice balls he hits. At the Masters his warmup
consisted of hitting the same clubs in the same order that he
would during the round--for example, a driver and an eight-iron
for the 1st hole, a driver and a two-iron for the 2nd, and a
three-iron and a nine-iron for the 3rd.

Faldo believed that most of his problems could be traced to poor
putting. For more than a year he regularly complained about pure
ball-striking rounds in which he never holed a putt. He changed
to a cross-handed grip for the first time in September 1994.
Late last year he returned to a conventional grip. Both ways, he
developed fidgety mannerisms on the greens. But after missing
the cut last month in the Players Championship, his final
tune-up before the Masters, Faldo switched to a new putter that
caught his fancy, a mallet with a composite insert. More
important, Leadbetter advised him to stand taller over his putts
to facilitate a pendulumlike arm swing, and the changes
immediately brought improvement. In a final week of practice at
Lake Nona in Orlando, which Faldo uses as his home base, he
focused almost exclusively on his short game. By the time Faldo
arrived at Augusta, he was so comfortable aiming with his new
stance that he discontinued a two-year-old routine in which
caddie Fanny Sunesson told him whether he was lined up correctly
before each putt. Faldo rolled the ball brilliantly during the
Masters, three-putting only once in 72 holes on the fast,
undulating greens. Although in the third round he missed five
straight putts under 10 feet, a failing made more obvious by
Norman's hot putting, on Sunday Faldo missed nothing under 10
feet and wrapped up the championship with a celebratory
15-footer for birdie on the final hole.

"I like to think this is a springboard, that the game is going
well at last and I can compete," said Faldo. "I think in some
aspects I'm better than I was in '92."

What's next in 1996? Faldo, already looking ahead to June and
Oakland Hills, is considering a life of crime. "Now I've got to
find a way to steal the U.S. Open."

COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN [Nick Faldo putting on green jacket] COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN [Nick Faldo] COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Even before Norman matched Faldo's birdie at 15, the scoreboard showed that his number was up. [Greg Norman in front of crowd and leader board]COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Faldo felt for Norman when their remarkable round ended. [Nick Faldo embracing Greg Norman]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)