If there are still those who would bestow Ben Hogan's mantle of stoicism upon Nick Faldo, then let them explain Sunday's happenings at Muirfield. By the time the 121st British Open Golf Championship was over, the supposedly phlegmatic Faldo had trembled, quivered and quailed, had shed real tears and had all but undressed in public. His victory speech, delivered before packed grandstands at the 18th green, included a verbal mooning of the press and a croaky rendition of the Frank Sinatra classic My Way—everything but one-arm push-ups.
Nowhere in the record of Hogan is there a similar example of public intoxication—a thin smile and a gracious thank-you being the Hogan response to most good fortune. Of course Hogan, the 1953 British Open champion, never led the tournament by four shots with 18 holes to play only to find himself down by two with four left. And then won.
That happened to Faldo on Sunday, and his near collapse hit him stronger than drink. "I'm absolutely gone, I'm shocked," he said afterward. Which was literally true. Faldo showed all the signs of clinical shock: paleness, giddiness, inappropriate verbal response, rambling speech. It was as if he had somehow survived a great fall, which, in fact, he had.
Actually, you can look at Faldo's victory in Scotland in one of two ways.
•It was one of the great comebacks in major-championship history. Faldo birdied two of the last four holes on the most esteemed course on the Open rota to overcome a stirring challenge by John Cook and become the first British three-time winner of the tournament since Harry Cotton in 1948.
•It was one of the great escapes in major-championship history. Three strokes up at the turn on Sunday, Faldo prevailed only because Cook blew a 2½-foot birdie putt on number 17 and then bogeyed the 18th.
Faldo was possessed of the second view. He spoke of his "imperfection" and of how his Sunday slide might destroy his frame of mind for future competition. "If it had all wound up the wrong way, if I had lost," he said in one of his postvictory soliloquies, "I'd have needed a very large plaster to patch that one up." And countless times for various audiences he repeated, "I thought I'd blown it."
Before Faldo had even started, British bookmaker William Hill had established him as the favorite based on his recent run of nine top-10 finishes in a row (including a playoff victory at the Irish Open and fourth place at the U.S. Open) and his record in majors (two British Open titles, two Masters wins, five other top-5 performances). Early in the week defending champion Ian Baker-Finch had picked "the two Nicks," Faldo and Price, because they were playing well and because "they want it so much." Interesting idea, really, because those who lose major championships often explain away their misfortune by saying, "I wanted it too much." Major titles are like pearls in syrup—ungraspable by the overeager.
Certainly there were many players in Scotland who wanted it badly, only to be left wanting. Fred Couples and Davis Love III, one and two on the PGA Tour money list for several months, missed the cut by five and seven shots, respectively. Love went quietly, but Couples saved his worst for the final hole, making triple bogey from one of Muirfield's famous fairway bunkers. The Garboesque Couples, given a chance to utter a perfectly appropriate "I vant to be alone," said instead, "I have a car waiting for me." Subsequent cars presumably lined up to carry off former British Open champions Seve Ballesteros, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, each of whom also missed the cut.
Among the survivors the most surprised may have been PGA champion John Daly, who sneaked in by a stroke. A novice at links-style golf, Daly tried to overpower Muirfield with the arsenal that had been so effective last August at Crooked Stick: huge drives and cloud-seeding wedges. Daly routinely launched balls safely over fairway bunkers, and on Thursday he drove pin high on the 351-yard second hole, but his short irons drifted like balloons in a gale. "He did not feel comfortable with this style of golf," said Baker-Finch, who played with Daly for two rounds. "His idea of golf is a 7,000-yard TPC course, water on every hole, soft greens and hitting all his second shots past the pin."