By Travis Puterbaugh, Curator
Sir Nick Faldo, a winner of six Major Championships, resides amongst an elite group of golfers including only Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods. What these four golfers have in common is the rarified air of being able to claim at least three Claret Jugs and three Green Jackets. Faldo won all six of his Majors between 1987 and 1996, but had been a force in international golf long before he started collecting Major hardware.
Faldo found early success on the European Tour, and in 1977, became the youngest player at the time to ever play in the Ryder Cup. Although his team, the final Great Britain & Ireland Ryder Cup squad, fell to the U.S., Faldo impressed with a 3-0-0 showing, including a win in singles over Tom Watson, the reigning Masters and Open Championship winner. A rising star in Europe, and one-fifth of the renowned “Famous Five” of European golf which also included Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam, Faldo’s ascendancy seemed inevitable.
With the 1987 Open Championship already under his belt and three top-four finishes in Major Championships in 1988, Faldo came into the 1989 Masters looking to join Ballesteros, Langer, and Lyle as members of the “Famous Five” who had conquered Augusta National. After starting the final round five shots behind leader Ben Crenshaw, Faldo posted a seven-under round of 65 and survived a two-hole playoff against Scott Hoch to earn his first Green Jacket. Faldo succeeded in becoming the second consecutive winner from the United Kingdom following Lyle’s win in 1988, but equally as important, became the first-ever winner from England. Coming back to Augusta in 1990, Faldo looked to become the first European to win in consecutive years, and the first repeat champion since Jack Nicklaus in 1966.
Bill Fields of Golf Illustrated wrote about Faldo that “no one wins big tournaments without luck, and it’s funny about good fortune: It seems to fall upon good golfers.” Faldo had his share of good fortune in 1989 when Hoch missed putts on the 18th green and on the first hole of the sudden-death playoff, which would have given him the victory. In 1990, Faldo was again the beneficiary of another player’s misfortune – this time Raymond Floyd – but as he did the year before, he put himself in prime position to capitalize.
Floyd, who previously won the Masters in 1976, had a chance to make history of his own at Augusta. With a win, the 47-year-old Floyd would eclipse Jack Nicklaus as the oldest winner in the history of the Masters, and after winning the Par-3 Contest on Wednesday prior to the start of the tournament, he could have become the first golfer to win both the Par-3 and the Masters in the same year.
Floyd took a two-shot lead on Friday with a 68, erasing a six-shot deficit to opening round leader Mike Donald, who followed his 64 with an unsightly 82 in the second round. Faldo played one-under golf through the first two rounds and trailed only by five shots heading into the weekend. Faldo cut into the lead on Saturday with a 66 and moved into position to catch Floyd in the final round.
Overcoming a three-shot lead at Augusta on Sunday is not impossible, but Faldo, who was paired in the final round with his boyhood hero Jack Nicklaus, put himself into early trouble with a double-bogey on the opening hole to fall five strokes behind. He rallied back with a birdie on the next hole and then again with birdies on seven and nine to stay within range of Floyd.
On the back nine, Floyd maintained a four-stroke lead after posting a birdie on the par-3 12th hole, where earlier Faldo saved his round by chipping his nearly buried ball out of the bunker and sinking a putt off the fringe to gain a hard-earned par. In the first words the two exchanged all afternoon, Faldo remarked to Nicklaus, “Thank God we don’t have to play that hole every week.”
Trouble loomed ahead for the leader, however, as Faldo made birdies on holes where Floyd had to settle for par (13, 15, 16). A three-putt on 17 after a wayward iron shot approach moved him into a tie for the lead with Faldo, who shot a final-round 69, and set the stage for a two-person playoff. Floyd had squandered a three-shot lead with four holes remaining, giving Faldo an opportunity for the second year in a row to kick open a door left slightly ajar.
Floyd had a chance to win on the opening hole of the playoff but left his putt for birdie just short, while Faldo worked himself out of bunker trouble again, blasting a long third shot to within three feet and a clutch par. On the 11th hole, Floyd missed with his 7-iron on his second shot and hit left of the green into the water, effectively handing the tournament to Faldo, who secured par on the same hole where he had beaten Hoch just one year earlier.
“Maybe Augusta should just give Faldo a condo behind 11 and be done with it,” quipped Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated.
“This is a little more emotional, this one,” Faldo said in his post-tournament interview in Butler Cabin. “I really feel as if I’ve made history this time.”
Faldo indeed made history, and would win the Masters for a third time in 1996. He would not need any extra holes to do so, as he won his third Green Jacket by overcoming a six-stroke deficit on Sunday and won by five strokes over Greg Norman. The sixth and final victory in a Major of Faldo’s career allowed him to claim his rightful place among the pantheon of elite Major champions.