A Fateful Day and a Bond Forever
What happened that day was quite possibly the single most remembered Sunday in Masters history. Norman had played a magnificent three rounds to build a six-shot lead going into the finale. But that was to all melt away to the man who had wormed his way into second place on the last hole Saturday of Round 3.
And by the 12th hole Sunday, it was all gone. By the 18th, Norman was in a state of shock after having shot 78 on a beautiful, calm, Augusta day. Faldo had grimly, gamely shot a 67 to win with ease, coasting home as the come-from-behind champion by five shots.
They teamed up last week in Naples, Fla., at Normans tournament, the Merrill Lynch Shootout. It doesnt matter where they finished (next to last.) What mattered was the image of them walking together, playing together, laughing and chatting together, a decade after that fateful day.
Norman denied that the pairing ' which he himself determined ' had anything to do with that spring day in 1996. But neither can deny what that day has meant in their careers.
Faldo is a private person who doesnt relish talking about the victory. But as I've said many a time, I genuinely felt for the guy on that day because, hey, that would have scarred me if it happened to me, he said. I blew a four-shot lead at Muirfield (in the 1987 British Open) and managed to clamber it back (to defeat television mate Paul Azinger by a shot.) At least I kind of knew what that felt like. Fortunately I haven't scarred myself in majors.
So that was a scar for him. I genuinely felt for the guy, and I thought he was certainly good enough (to win).
In 1996, Faldo obviously wasnt the golfer he had been he had been during his days as world No. 1, up until 1994. He knew he wasnt the same shot-maker. But what he still had was a champions mentality
That round was the best round of golf mentally I've ever played, he said, because I had to go through the process of every shot I stood over - every shot (I had) negative thoughts. The wheels are going to come off, start again. What do I want to do?
And I had to push myself through the process of playing a golf shot. It was like, Oh, wow, can I do it? I had to literally tick all the little things off to make it happen. So that for me was the best mental intensity I've ever given it.
The man renowned for his incredible focus suddenly had to focus like never before. And he had to do it while trying to defeat a Masters hero.
The whole sound of Augusta changed, Faldo said. We could sense what's going on - it's like you can't get involved with his emotion, you've got to stay in your own little world because if you pop out of your little world, you'll lose it.
Obviously few of us have been in that position in that arena where you realize that you can be so fragile between being so mentally tough and then something can happen and you just lose it. And one bad shot trickles off into the lake (as Norman's did on the 12th) and it's a snowball. You lose it for five seconds, and that can be Augusta gone for you.
Norman himself isnt the type to rehash a day like the 96 train wreck, though he found the week particularly revealing in one respect. Its interesting to hear how he (Faldo) felt, and obviously it was interesting for him to feel how I was feeling that day.
But if the two old protagonists dont particularly enjoy talking about the 96 Masters, they do enjoy talking about the skills of each other.
We had this incredible competitive rivalry, and I loved it because he was an intense guy to play against, said Norman. I said this on The Golf Channel show - he's a guy who would walk on the first tee, cut your heart out and hand it back to you at the end of the round. He was so intent on beating you.
And Faldo conceded that the popular conception of him as the ultimate loner was correct for a long time.
I always had the attitude that I held my cards close to my chest. I actually didn't want to socialize with golfers after a round because I just didn't want to talk golf. I liked to park it and leave it, he said.
So I think now 10 years on, I hope this is a great time. My golfing career is kind of winding down now, and I think if we can sit down at the end of the day and be able to shoot the breeze and take the mickey out of each other now that it's all over, why not?
For me, being a competitor was part of your life. But you move on, and I really like to live in the now time.
Norman conceded that the mystery of Faldo the Solitary Champion made him want to extend the invitation to his tournament, if for nothing more than getting to really know the guy who had been his No. 1 rival for a decade.
When I was sitting back thinking about it, I said, 'You know, life is too short. I haven't really understood Nick as a person, as a friend, and he probably doesn't know me as a person and as a friend, either.' I said, Why not? Life is too short.
I thought about that when I spoke to Chris Evert about it, and I thought, You know what, who was my greatest rival out there? It was Faldo. Why were we great rivals? We were great golfers.' Being great golfers doesn't necessarily need to make you great friends.
Now life has changed. He's off in the business world, I'm off in the business world, and quite honestly, we've got a lot to talk about. We've got a lot of time to catch up on.
So Norman placed the call, asking Faldo if Faldo would be his partner.
You could hear this pregnant pause at the end of the line, said Norman, laughing. I think he was pleasantly surprised.
Sometimes you've got to reach out, and sometimes youre - I'm glad I did it.
Faldo says hes sorry that he had to play golf the way he did, with a single-minded outlook which permitted him to play at a championship level but closed out completely his fellow competitors.
This is me now, he says. When I was a competitor, that was me then, and that was the only way I knew how to deal with it.
I wish, as we all do - wish you knew then what you know now. I wish I had the ability to go in and out of having fun if something happens, being able to respond to that and then click back into my golf. I didn't.
Obviously people got portrayed, Well, look at this miserable bugger on the golf course, he must be like that all the time. So I got that reputation, and I wasn't. Yes, I was committed to golf, but you have to be if you want anything from - if you're building a business or a sportsman, you've got to be committed.
But OK, this is me now. As you can hear me talk, that was then, this is the new lifestyle now. I love my life ... It's as simple as that, you know.
Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead
New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.
The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.
"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."
Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.
It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.
Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.
Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore
SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.
Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.
He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.
Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.
Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.
The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.
''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''
Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.
He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.
Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.
Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.
''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''
13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest
Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.
Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.
“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”
Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.
Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings.
McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi
It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.
Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.
Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.
“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”
Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.
“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.
This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.