Steady, accurate Faldo in Open driver's seat Rough, soaked greens may highlight strengths

June 13, 1996|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. -- Two months ago, after he had coughed up the Masters, Greg Norman said that he still felt he was destined to do "something special" in the game that has made him rich, famous and frustrated.

Norman was alluding to major championships to come, but the man answering questions about golf's Grand Slam, of course, isn't Norman, but Nick Faldo. The Shark-catching Brit won his third Masters in April, and now that the U.S. Open has taken over the major stage, is there any more logical choice to tame a soggy Oakland Hills Country Club and some typically nasty Open rough than Faldo?

Faldo is the most accurate driver on the PGA Tour this season. His putter handled Augusta National's greens, the only ones on the tour tougher than the ridge-riddled surfaces here. It's a combination that could make him the first man since Jack Nicklaus, who did it 24 years ago, to win both the Masters and U.S. Open.

That would put Faldo halfway to the modern Grand Slam, which no one, not even the great Nicklaus, has accomplished.

"You have got to have everything right physically, mentally, emotionally," Faldo said of the daunting task of winning all four of the major champion ships in the same year, the last two legs being the British Open and PGA. "Then you've got 150 other guys also trying to compete.

"You've got to survive the battle of all four. I'd hate to think what the media attention would be like if you did happen to do [win] three and you were going for the last one, I should think that I'd need bodyguards and all sorts of things to keep you all [the media] off of me."

The attention already has been staggering for both Faldo and Norman since the Masters. Neither has ever won a U.S. Open or played particularly well since the Masters, but the drama they provided in the fourth round there has kept them in the limelight. Faldo came in with a sterling 67, the best round of the weekend, to catch and pass Norman's gruesome 78, which blew all of a six-stroke lead.

They hugged afterward, and the cards and letters haven't stopped coming. Norman has received more than 8,000 responses from fans, lauding his manner in the face of one more major slipping out of his grasp.

"I think people realize, when they see a lot of other sports, the antics and the approach some other athletes take toward a loss or a bad call," Norman said. "I don't want my kid to come up and think because you got a bad call, you can get abusive, or if you don't win, you don't talk to the media or you just go hide in a hole a couple of days.

"I hope I have a six-shot lead come Sunday. I look forward to that moment. If I don't, if I'm one or two back, I look forward to that too."

Norman has played only one PGA event since April, finishing 40th at the Buick Classic last week, but he isn't concerned.

"I can be a winner any time," said Norman, who was runner-up to Corey Pavin at Shinnecock Hills last year. "Look, before the Masters, both Faldo and I missed the cut at the TPC. The guys, when they come in here, have a tendency of tweaking up their game that week. All I know is when you come to a major championship, you focus that much more technically on what your ultimate goal is, and that is to win."

The current expert on finishing majors is Faldo, whose final round at the Masters is aging quite nicely.

"As time goes on, fellow players know it is there," said Faldo when asked if he felt his Masters win was obscured by Norman's travail. "I shot 12-under, beat Greg, beat the rest of the field by six shots. I am more than happy that it has been recognized."

Faldo is a par machine, and that steady nature is what will make him a contender on a course that was dubbed the "Monster" in 1951, when Ben Hogan closed with a 67 to win, but still finished 7-over for the tournament.

"It's just going to be a week of churning out a lot of pars," Faldo said. "If you don't quite land it in the right place, the ball can end up 20-30 yards from the pin. Then you've got to putt over 4-foot ridges."

Was the Masters epilogue a sign that the rivalry between Faldo and Norman, which has been simmering since 1977, has lost any of its edge? Faldo was asked, if he couldn't do it, would he like to see Norman win here?

"No comment," Faldo replied.

Pub Date: 6/13/96

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