Steely Faldo on track of streaking Shark

April 13, 1996|By John Eisenberg

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- He is threatening to turn the Masters into a private victory tour, hammering Augusta National as few have before.

But did Greg Norman sleep the easy, carefree sleep of a winner last night?

What do you think? He looked up and saw Nick Faldo in his rear-view mirror late yesterday afternoon, matching him birdie for birdie, bearing down on him with that metronomic swing and unblinking gaze.

It's only the most frightening sight in all of golf.

Did Norman sleep easy last night? No way.

Sure, he doubled the size of his lead during yesterday's second round, stapling a 69 onto his first-round 63 and putting six strokes between himself and every other golfer in the field except one.

If that one exception were anyone other than Faldo, Norman almost could begin to celebrate. He is playing that well, with 14 birdies and two bogeys in the first 36 holes.

But Faldo is just four shots behind. Cue the "Jaws" theme, please.

A four-shot lead with 36 holes to go is irrelevant to Faldo, 38, a swing machine who twice has won the Masters with comebacks and shot 66 yesterday.

He hasn't won the Masters in six years and hasn't won any major title in four, but he is still one of the world's best golfers.

A nightmarish sight in Norman's rear-view mirror.

The two will play together today and, barring a collapse, probably tomorrow, too.

Just what Norman needed: Two rounds with a golfer who reminds him of his many past near-misses, spectacular flameouts and episodes of gross misfortune,

Norman is the world's best these days, a breathtaking talent at the peak of his skills. But he has won only two major titles to Faldo's five, giving Faldo what Norman desperately wants: a reputation for delivering in the clutch.

If Norman is to going to win his first major in the United States at last, he'll have to beat Faldo.

Sleep well? Are you kidding?

It had to be this way for Norman, of course. It had to be hard.

He couldn't just stroll into Augusta National, blow everyone away and bury years of frustration without sweating.

It's just not meant to happen that way for him.

Not that he didn't try his best yesterday to put the tournament away. Four birdies in the final 11 holes pushed him to 12-under-par, one stroke off the Masters record for the first 36 holes.

"He is just the best player in the world right now," Lee Janzen said. "He'll be very tough to catch."

His late run pulled Norman away from a pack of chasers including Janzen, Phil Mickelson, Bob Tway, Scott Hoch, Vijay Singh and David Frost.

Faldo was in that pack for a while. Beginning the day at 3-under, he gave back a stroke with a bogey on No. 1, got it back on the next hole, then parred four holes in a row.

"The front nine is playing incredibly tough," Norman said.

Then, suddenly, Faldo began to break away from the pack and creep up on Norman. He birdied No. 7. He birdied No. 10. He birdied Nos. 13 and 15.

Finally, moments after Norman sank a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 15, Faldo answered with a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 18.

The crowds' roars echoed through the tall pines on the back nine, battling for supremacy.

The tournament had begun.

Someone asked Faldo if he was looking forward to playing in a twosome with Norman with so much on the line.

"Of course, that's all part of it," he said.

Norman gave it the company line.

"No matter who you're playing with, you're playing with someone who is playing well," he said.

L Right. Sure. Nick Faldo, David Frost, what's the difference?


The strange part about Faldo's return to the leader board after five middling years here is that it comes at a troubled time in his personal life. He left his wife last year to take up with a member of the University of Arizona's women's golf team.

(A former member, actually. She quit the team to come out on tour with him. The Arizona golf coach recently gave this memorable preseason assessment of his team: "We lost three good players. Two graduated and one ran off with Nick Faldo.")

Anyway, Faldo was getting skewered in the British tabloids until Princess Diana's divorce blew him off the front pages. His problems couldn't possibly rate.

He's back on the front page today, but for his golf game, not his love life. He is nailing wedges to the pin and dropping long putts as though they were tap-ins.

The most frightening sight in all of golf.

As if Norman's burden wasn't heavy enough already.

Pub Date: 4/13/96

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