GULLANE, Scotland –- The last two winners of the Open Championship have been guys seemingly past their prime. Could it be a case of third time lucky at Muirfield this week?
Can Sir Nick Faldo, 55, turn back the hands of time and contend the way Darren Clarke did at Royal St. George’s two years ago, and Ernie Els last year?
“It would be quite an achievement if I could hover close to making the cut,” Faldo said.
Faldo will play in his first Open Championship since St. Andrews in 2010. He shot 72 and 81 to miss the cut with ease. Those are his last competitive rounds.
Indeed, so little did he enjoy missing the cut he said he was done with competitive golf. Then he had a change of heart two months ago.
“I was doing a commercial for Glenmorangie, and the question was, what’s your favorite golf course,” Faldo explained. “I thought, wow, I’ve got a very special place here, the 18th green at Muirfield. So maybe that sowed some seeds.
“About two months ago I was in my gym and I thought, ‘You’re you’re strong enough to have a go.’ It might be the last chance I get to walk with fellow Open champions. And so I said, ‘OK, I’m going to go for it.’”
The Englishman won two of his three Open Championships over the Muirfield Links. He famously made 18 consecutive pars in the final round of the 1987 Open to win his first. Five years later he won his third, just two years after winning at St. Andrews.
There was a time in the late 1980s and 1990s when Faldo turned up for every major as a genuine contender to win. He has three Masters wins to match his Open Championship titles. However, the Englishman is long past his prime. He only played 24 rounds of golf last year, and 11 in 2011.
Faldo has missed the cut in his last four Opens. You have to go back to 2005 when he finished T-11 to find the six-time major winner posing any sort of threat in the game’s oldest championship.
Don’t expect him to come even close to that form. The Englishman is a 1000-1 shot with British bookmakers William Hill.
Faldo will play in the company of Tom Watson and Fred Couples. Both players have a better chance of winning than Faldo. Couples is still competitive and long enough, and Watson is a five-time Open champion – including the 1980 Open at Muirfield – and is just four years removed from losing a playoff to Stewart Cink at Turnberry.
Clarke and Ernie Els winning as 40somethings the last two years provided beautiful stories. So did Watson in 2009. Had he won at Turnberry in 2009 it would have been one of the greatest achievements in sport, nevermind golf.
Don’t expect Faldo to pen a similar story this week. “When you’ve come and seen the test they’ve prepared, you start a grand idea of survival, of how close to the cut I could get. That would be pretty impressive for a guy that hasn’t hit a competitive shot for three years.
“I’m going to bust my buns and get to know this golf course, because it’s like a main road out there. It’s hard and fast.”
Don’t bet on Faldo mastering Muirfield for a third time. He’s only making a ceremonial visit.