AUGUSTA, Ga. -- As The Masters gets under way, the attention focuses on Nick Faldo, who endeavors to reach a position of Masters renown that has been approached only once, and never achieved.
Faldo, a man defined as having an "athletic" golf swing, wants to be the first player to win three straight Masters, which would give him a luster even Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and all the other illustrious players found to be far beyond their grasp.
The only previous two-in-a-row Masters champion was Nicklaus, who won in 1965 and 1966 but failed to make the cut in his attempt to make it a triple. Overall, Nicklaus has tamed the Augusta National course for an unprecedented six championships, which Faldo can't even begin to think about because he's not yet halfway there.
"I'm not thinking of three straight," says Faldo. "I only want to win this one. If it turns into three in a row then I'll be happy. I look on it as an opportunity to start another year. In a way, there's not much pressure because no one ever won it three times in succession. But I agree, it would be a hell of a feat."
Faldo, a resident of Surrey, England, at age 33 is in his peak years as a professional. He's strong and a stylist with a swing that was restructured in 1985 by David Leadbetter, now regarded as one of the sport's premier teachers.
"It consumed close to two years before it all fell into place," says Leadbetter. "But Nick stayed with the principles and there were occasions when he went to the practice grounds five different times in a single day. He more than paid the price in dedication."
What Leadbetter teaches is a turn of the upper body, with little hand or arm movement coming into play until the backswing has been completed. The idea is to bring the larger muscles into play -- plus mistakes are minimized by controlling manipulation of the club. The bottom-line objective is to make the swing continually the same.
"It was terribly frustrating," says Faldo, "to take my swing all apart and then have David insert the changes. At moments, back in 1986, I felt I was putting a giant jigsaw puzzle together."
But it worked and now Faldo is making millions and Leadbetter is selling a ton of copies of his book, merely called "The Golf Swing," as golfers of all sizes, shapes and abilities want to give themselves the Faldo look.
In addition to his revised swing, Faldo also has a different appearance. Not only did he hire Leadbetter to revise his swing pattern but Faldo also engaged a personal trainer -- Paul Ankers, a one-time European judo medalist -- to help make him stronger.
Exercises were devised to help Faldo's sore wrists, which were tender and inflamed from pounding golf balls. The physical results of the training are apparent.
His coat size has gone from a 42 in 1982 to 46 and his neck has grown an inch to 17 1/2 . "I've put on muscle weight, not weight-weight," he insists. "I put on over half a stone of weight but I lost body fat. That means I have added 20 pounds of muscle in the last year."
He says even though he didn't play golf from Christmas until February, his game is ready for another Masters charge. "It's all there," he says. "It just needs oiling."
As for his competition, Faldo lists Ian Woosnam of Wales, Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain, Tom Watson and Steve Elkington as the top challengers. Europeans have won five of the last eight Masters.
"There's bound to be others," he says. "There's bound to be new names."
And there's Nicklaus, who is trying for his seventh Masters victory. He won The Tradition Seniors event last weekend, finishing 66-67 to come back from a 12-stroke deficit.
"Honestly? I wouldn't be surprised if I won," Nicklaus says. "Do I expect to win? Half and half. Let me put it this way: I feel like I have a good chance."