It’s hard to imagine now, but like all things time has softened the edges and helped explain a great many things about Sir Nick Faldo.
Since he passed his playing prime, we’ve learned the hard-nosed competitor is an adapt storyteller with a keen sense of humor. During a recent conversation with the three-time Masters champion we also learned that the Englishman was superstitious. Not rabbit foot and four-day socks superstitious, but more attuned to the forces of chance than his icy exterior ever suggested.
During a recent conversation on the 20th anniversary of his second Masters triumph even Faldo marveled at how the cosmic tumblers cascaded into proper order in 1990.
The first sign was the official poster, which featured an image of Faldo on the 11th green celebrating his overtime victory over Scott Hoch a year earlier. And when he began his final round three shots behind Raymond Floyd, Faldo recalls being paired with Jack Nicklaus, who, at that time, was the only other player to win back-to-back green jackets.
Even when Faldo began his final round with a double bogey-6 he never doubted his title chances thanks, in large part, to encouraging premonitions about his title defense and a new face on his bag.
“I was twisted up about going to defend,” Faldo said. “I told myself 'you are not going to defend. You are going to win another Masters'.”
That effort was aided by the addition of Fanny Sunesson to Team Faldo. Although Sunesson would remain on Faldo’s bag for the remainder of his Hall of Fame career, the ’90 Masters was her first major with Faldo, and her first visit to Augusta National.
“To walk out to this magnificent golf course, it was awesome. All the history, just amazing,” recalls Sunesson. “I hadn’t seen it much on TV. They don’t show (the Masters) much in Sweden.”
If having a greenhorn caddie concerned Faldo, those fears didn’t last long. The two played their first practice round together on the Sunday before the tournament, a process that forced Faldo to focus on strategy and golf course management.
“That did a world of good for me because in the practice rounds I would do running commentary of what I wanted to do. Visually it was very powerful,” said Faldo, who teamed with Sunesson in January 1990.
Both Sunesson and Faldo got better with each round, posting cards of 71-72-66 to move into the hunt. Even the Englishman’s three-stroke, 54-hole deficit was of little concern. A year earlier, when Faldo collected his first green jacket, he’d started the final turn five strokes off the lead.
In hindsight, Faldo believes his charge began at the 12th hole, where his tee shot had plugged in a greenside bunker and the distance between himself and the top of the leaderboard had expanded to four strokes.
“Made an amazing up and down at 12,” Faldo said. “I had a plugged lie in the bunker, do or die moment and I just stuck the club in the ground. Hit it to 12 feet and holed the putt.”
Faldo birdied three of his next four holes, including a deuce at the par-3 16th hole. “I had a weird kind of dream of making 2 there,” he said.
It was a classic back-nine Sunday charge. The kind of rally some say the new Augusta National repeals, but in 1990 it was a quintessential Masters moment welcomed by a thunderous chorus that echoed through the pines.
“When you are at Augusta you have to play so defensively all week and wait unitl you get into a position where you can get brave,” Faldo said. “If you pull it off you can win the Masters. If you fail it will cost you the tournament.”
Faldo’s bravado was rewarded, he signed for a closing 69 to tie Floyd, who bogeyed the 17th hole, at 278. The playoff, however, was anticlimactic by comparison. Faldo matched Floyd at the first extra hole, scrambling for par at the downhill 10th and was struck with a wave of déjà vu as he stepped to the 11th tee.
“At 11, I had mixed emotions from last year,” said Faldo, who clipped Hoch a year earlier on the same hole with a dramatic 25-foot birdie putt.
What happened next stunned Faldo, to say nothing of Floyd. From the middle of the 11th fairway Floyd pulled a 7-iron from 176 yards into a pond that was guarding the left side of the green.
“It all happened in a 2-second flash,” Faldo said of Floyd’s miscue. “It was a weird feeling. I hit a little 8-iron down the hill and the best lag putt of my life.”
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The surprise of Floyd’s miscue aside, the ’90 Masters played out almost exactly the way Faldo envisioned it would. A four-part drama that remained on script until the very end, to a bookend green jacket ceremony and a knowing smile.
“I used to have little dreams of the day ahead or the next major. Premonitions,” Faldo said. “When you look at my reaction I knew it was going to be my day.”