It was Faldos first year on the PGA Tour in 95, after a wonderful career on the European Tour that began almost 20 years earlier, back in 1976. Faldo struggled that first year as a 19-year-old rookie, making eight cuts in 13 European appearances. In the intervening years, he became the greatest player that the European Tour has produced, winning three Masters and three British Opens, a total of 30 tour victories, and making the Ryder Cup a record 11 times.
In 95, though, he was a 37-year-old rookie in America. He came because he wanted to play the tour with top practice facilities and velvet greens, the tour that he felt he had to conquer to be truly at the top of his professional abilities. So he left his London area home, set up housekeeping in Orlando, Fla., and started his quest.
It didnt take long to strike gold. He maneuvered his way into contention at Doral the first three days, starting his round Sunday three shots behind Peter Jacobsen and Greg Norman, tied with Davis Love III for third place.
And it all came to Dorals famed 18 ' the Blue Monster. Its 440 yards of a sliver of land and a great big lake. Its a very difficult driving hole requiring a tee shot that stays right of the water, then an approach left over the lake. The green is raised with the water lapping up against its edges.
The tournament all came down to the 18th with three players going mano a mano with the Monster. Faldo, Greg Norman and Peter Jacobsen were the combatants. Heres how each made out in the duel with the lake:
Norman hit into the deep rough beside the lake. Then he put himself out of competition with a 6-iron that hooked way left, far out over the water near the green and almost onto a portable scoreboard that was anchored into the lake.
I tried to kill a 6-iron, Norman said. I thought I could carry the water. There was a clump of grass right behind the ball. It was just sitting in the wrong place.
Jacobsen was coming off two victories out West, and threatened to add a third at Doral. Missed short putts at Nos. 10, 12 and 13 kept him from getting there ' plus a shot at 18 that drifted right, onto a mound near a tree trunk.
Jacobsen knocked his ball onto the green, but it was 60 feet away. Facing a putt that would have put him into a playoff, he missed the cup by only a centimeter.
It was one of those putts you dream about, he said. You dont expect to make it, but if you do, its a storybook ending.
And then, there was Faldo. He looked like just another loser, too, when his pulled tee shot was all wet.
Faldo dropped, and faced 230 yards to the hole, all of it above water. He yanked a 3-wood and slowly settled it, twisting his spikes for the utmost traction.
Then he swung, and it was clearly evident he had made the green. Two putts later, he had made bogey. But he had won by a shot ' without need of a playoff ' thanks to the Blue Monster.
Its a tough decision to make on the tee, Faldo said of Dorals 18th. I cant blast it over the corner and carry the water. If I go down the middle of the fairway and I get one hop, with the wind left-to-right, Im in the right rough. I have nothing to aim at...'
Ive got to aim in that little left-hand corner of the rough and nail it and hope the wind blows and scoots it forward. Its a tough drive.
But Faldo himself was tough. Now Ive done it, he said.