Monday, 23 March 2015

1989 US Masters: Nick Faldo

Nick Faldo shot a final round 65, helping him to win his first green jacket, but his victory owed a lot to Scott Hoch and his infamous missed putt on the first play-off hole. 

The build-up

After Nick Faldo's breakthrough major win in 1987, the following year had seen a return to bridesmaid status for the Englishman. In eight tournaments Faldo finished in second place, including a US Open play-off defeat to Curtis Strange, and a 2 & 1 loss to his old rival Sandy Lyle in the World Matchplay final. Faldo's consistency was undoubted - along with his US Open showing he also finished third in the Open Championship and tied-fourth in the US PGA - and in October 1988 he did manage to win the Volvo Masters. Yet as 1989 began, the 31-year-old was desperate to see his solid displays rewarded, especially when it came to the majors.

In many ways Faldo was perhaps a bit too determined to reach the next level. "It's time I stopped hurting myself," Faldo declared as he arrived at Augusta, his switch to the US tour so far not proving to be the rip roaring success he had hoped for. With a best finish of 22nd place and earnings of just $23,138 (in comparison to Tour leader Tom Kite's $565,179), Faldo was seemingly not in the best of form to make a challenge for the green jacket, reflected in his pre-tournament odds of 25/1. Battling with himself as much as anything else, Faldo was urged to relax a little by his coach David Leadbetter. "He Just needs to forget about his swing and go out there and play," Leadbetter noted, adding that Faldo was playing well enough, but needed to not get so down on himself when things went wrong.

One perceived chink in the Faldo armour was his putting. Time after time he would put pepper flags and put himself in the ideal position, yet often putts would slide past the hole, the 1988 US Open and US PGA being prime examples of Faldo and his frustrations. "The problem for Faldo is that his once silky putting stroke has deserted him," wrote The Times' Mitchell Platts before the tournament. "He must rediscover his touch if he is to tame the tortuous Augusta greens". Certainly Faldo was aware of the issue, switching to a Bullseye putter and changing his putting stroke before the first round. It would immediately pay dividends.

In contrast, defending champion Lyle was not in a good place. True, the Scot had enjoyed a marvellous 1988, yet the signs were slowly becoming clear that 1989 was going to be the mirror opposite. Despite starting the year well, Lyle's form had taken a nosedive, and when he walked out of the Nestle Invitational at Bay Hill just before completing his second round, and failed to make the cut at the Tournament Players' Championship, the first seeds of doubt had been planted that all was not well with Lyle. "I don't want to go to the first tee, make a fool of myself and shoot 84," were hardly the words of a confident man, as the defence of his title began, but Lyle was right to be concerned.

Of the other Europeans, Seve Ballesteros (8/1 second favourite) was best placed to make a bid for the title. Having finished third the week before in the Independent Insurance Agent Open in Houston, Ballesteros was extremely calm as he made his way to Augusta. "I'm feeling very good about my chances because I know I'm playing well and I am putting even better than last year," Ballesteros stated. "The Masters is very special to me, but if you worry too much about what lies ahead, you can put too much pressure on yourself. The key is to relax". Wise words indeed, although the newly married and chilled out Seve would show on the Sunday that even the greatest could feel the strain.

The other Europeans were less hopeful of wearing the green jacket come Sunday. Bernhard Langer was once more struggling with his putting, a problem that would dog him through the year and result in him not qualifying automatically for Europe's Ryder Cup team. Ian Woosnam's main goal was to make the cut, after his failure to do so on his debut the previous year. Another man who had failed to make the weekend in his two previous performances at Augusta was Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal. The 23-year-old (the same age as Ballesteros had been when he won his first Masters) was not expected to feature at the top of the leaderboard, although 1984 champion Ben Crenshaw was adamant that Olazabal was one for the future: "His short game is unbelievably good. He is not overawed by these occasions. He will definitely win the Masters one day".

Australia's Greg Norman was installed as the bookies favourite at 7/1, the Great White Shark trying to right the wrongs of his 1986 and 1987 defeats, with the home threat expected to come from Curtis Strange (12/1) and 1988 runner-up and two-time 1989 tour winner Mark Calcavecchia (14/1). Other Americans mentioned in tournament previews were Tom Kite, Tom Watson, Chip Beck, Craig Stadler, Fred Couples and Ben Crenshaw, although heavy rain after a tornado on the Tuesday was predicted to slow the greens a little and reduce the usual US advantage.

Round one

If conditions were meant to be a little easier then it did not show during an opening round where only three men broke 70. Faldo's 68 represented only the second time in 21 rounds at Augusta that he had broken 70, and was built around an unusually hot putter. "I changed my putter and my putting stroke and I got my confidence back on the greens," Faldo confessed. "They might have been softened by the rain, but they are still mega quick".

The Bullseye putter, similar to the one he had used in his amateur days, saw Faldo sink a 30 foot putt on the second for birdie, and another at the seventh saw him turn in 34 (-2). A dropped shot at 11 - this would become a recurring theme of the week - failed to derail Faldo, a driver and one-iron at the par five 13th setting up an eagle. A 22 foot birdie putt at the 17th helped Faldo come home in 34, his 68 (-4) the ideal start for the Englishman.

It still was not quite good enough for the lead though. Lee Trevino, rolling back the years at 49, seemingly possessed a putter even more potent than Faldo's, his outward nine of 32 (-4) seeing him single putt each of the first five holes. The American's love-hate relationship with the US Masters had been well documented. On three occasions in the 1970s he had turned down invitations to play, bemoaning the course and how it did not suit his style of play. He was also none too comfortable with the whole Augusta environment, still refusing to change in the locker room, and continuing to put his golf shoes on in the car park.

Trevino's 67 gave him a one shot lead over Faldo, with the relatively unknown, but about to become infamous, Scott Hoch in third after a 69. In windy conditions, only seven other men broke par, including Ballesteros and Crenshaw who both carded 71. It could have been so much better for the Spaniard, but a visit to Rae's Creek on the 13th, which saw Ballesteros remove his shoes and socks, resulted in a dropped shot.

Ballesteros was handily placed though for a crack at his third Masters, yet for Sandy Lyle it was a very different case. An opening 77 highlighted the state of his game at the time, and he would suffer the indignity of missing the cut when he followed this up with a 76 on the Friday (only the fourth defending US Masters champion to miss the cut after Jack Nicklaus, Tommy Aaron and Ballesteros). Such was the frazzled condition of both Lyle's mind and game that come the end of the season he had to turn down a place in Tony Jacklin's Ryder Cup team, his fall from grace both sad and staggering at the same time. After his heroics of 1988, he would never be the same player again.

Woosnam and Langer fared a little better, the pair amongst a group on 74 (+2) which contained Norman, Strange, Stadler, Calcavecchia, and Beck amongst others. Olazabal's 77 looked to have threatened his participation during the weekend once more at Augusta, but a second round 73 saw him make the cut, and he would eventually finish tied-8th, an important part of his Masters education that would bear fruit with green jackets in 1994 and 1999.

Round two

At one point on the second day it appeared for a moment that Faldo may start to run away with things, but the US Masters is rarely that easy (1997 being one of the odd exceptions). After saving par at the 1st and 3rd holes, Faldo made his move, birdies at 4 and 6 giving him a three shot lead over Trevino who was finding Friday a whole lot more difficult than his opening round. Another bogey at 11 slowed Faldo's progress, and with Ballesteros making ground, the lead was down to just one shot. However, both Europeans were about to experience wobbly ends to their round that saw the field gather a little closer.

Ballesteros may have been confident of his putting before the tournament, yet a four-putt on the 15th green, including missing twice from 30 inches, resulted in a double bogey 7 and left the Spaniard less than amused. He would end the day two behind tournament leaders Faldo and Trevino, the former bogeying both 16 and 17 when it looked as if he would be in front at the halfway point. This was as good as it got for Trevino, however, a disastrous 81 on the Saturday extinguishing any hope of a first green jacket, and by 1991 the American had played in his last Masters tournament.

Only seven men would be under par after two days. Faldo and Trevino headed the pack on 141 (-3) with Ballesteros, Crenshaw, Ken Green, Hoch and Mike Reid all one under par. Tom Kite was a further shot back, and Mark O'Meara, Strange and Watson all in contention at one over par. Langer and Norman were eight behind the leaders, although realistically the German was not playing well enough to make a challenge, but the same could not be said about the Great White Shark over the weekend. Woosnam and Olazabal both made the cut for the first time at Augusta (Woosnam eventually finishing in the top 14), but there were notable absentees. Along with Lyle, former champions Stadler, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer would not make the weekend, with course record holder Nick Price also missing out.

Round three

Sadly the third round would be heavily disrupted by lightning and rain, so much so that it was not possible to complete the round before the end of the day. A delay of one hour 40 minutes did little to help matters, and as the day developed it appeared that the biggest beneficiaries would be Crenshaw and Norman. The Australian completed his round early in windy but dry conditions, a huge advantage seeing as the heavens soon opened and made the situation trickier for those on the course. After Norman's previous trials and tribulations at Augusta, he probably felt he deserved a little luck.

Norman's 68 dragged him back to +1 for the tournament, yet as play was brought to a premature conclusion due to darkness, it was Crenshaw who was sitting pretty at the top of the leaderboard. Three under for his round through 13 holes, and four under for the tournament, Crenshaw held a four shot lead over Faldo, Hoch and Reid, walking off the 14th fairway a happy man. Anyone looking for omens may have been interested in the fact that the last time the third round of the Masters had been suspended was in 1984 and Crenshaw had also left the course whilst playing the 14th. He went on to win the tournament in that year, and although it was far too early to make any predictions, Crenshaw was undoubtedly in a strong position at the end of the Saturday.

The conclusion of the third round early on the Sunday would be crucial to many players. Faldo finished his round with two bogeys, and his mood was clear for all to see when he snapped at a journalist after his round (Faldo later apologised for his behaviour). Faldo (+2) would start the final round trailing leader Crenshaw (-3) by five shots, the American brought back to the rest of the field slightly, Hoch and Reid just two behind, and Ballesteros, who finished his round with three birdies in the last five holes, three behind (along with Green and Kite). Norman was four behind and poised to make a move, on what promised to be a gripping Sunday. It did not disappoint.

Round four

A desperate Faldo went straight to the putting green to try out some more putters, switching once again before the final round, and it proved a success. Birdie putts from 50 feet on the 1st, 12 feet on the 2nd, 15 feet at the 4th, and 18 feet on the 7th fully justified Faldo's decision to make the change, his outward 32 putting him right back in the hunt. As he turned for home the Masters was truly hotting up in the miserable Georgia weather: Ballesteros -4 (8 holes) Hoch -4 (7) Crenshaw -2 (7) Reid -2 (7) Faldo -2 (9) Norman E (9).

Unfortunately for Faldo he would make his fourth bogey of the week at the 11th, yet if he could finish strongly then there was still a chance for him to post a competitive clubhouse score. Not in his wildest dreams could Faldo have imagined the birdie trail he would go on from the 13th, with four birdies in five holes setting the target for the others to chase. A drive and a three wood to 12 feet at the 13th gave Faldo two putts for a birdie, and an approach to 5 feet on the 14th saw him move to -3.

It would be the events at the next two holes that suggested that this could be Faldo's day of destiny. Faldo's tee shot to the par three 16th was solid, but it left him a treacherous putt across a sloping green, hardly suggesting that Faldo was about to gain a shot. The putt from 18 feet, which appeared to have a break of 6 feet, moved towards the hole before dropping, Faldo's celebration highlighting just how difficult and important the birdie was. When he followed this up with a 30 foot birdie putt on 17 to tie for the lead with Hoch, the look of astonishment on Faldo's face was clear to see. A par at 18 after a narrow birdie miss saw him complete the round of his dreams, a 65 setting the clubhouse lead of -5.

Behind him many players seemed to take charge before fluffing their lines. Reid had moved to -6 but a nervy miss for par on 14 indicated that all was not well in his mind, confirmation of this coming when he proceeded to put his approach into the water at 15, drowning his chances immediately. Ballesteros also met a watery grave, his mood darkening as much as the weather. On the 15th green a birdie putt slid past, although Ballesteros appeared to be none too pleased that a big cheer from the nearby 16th had put him off. Things were about to get a whole lot worse though.

Putting his tee shot into the water in front of the 16th, Ballesteros looked thunderous and appeared to berate his caddie Ian Wright. Earlier in the week, Ballesteros had jokingly said that he had no one to blame if his caddie gave him the wrong club, due to this being Wright's first Masters tournament, but in the heat of the battle, the Spaniard let rip at anyone and everyone, also waving his arms in frustration at the galleries around the 16th green after walking off with a double bogey 5 that ended his hopes. Regrettably it was the last time ever that Seve would challenge for one of the majors.

One of main threats to Faldo's clubhouse lead was the looming presence of Norman. The Australian went on a charge, as he would do later in the year at Troon, birdieing 9, 10, 13, 15, 16 and 17 to reach the last tee level with Faldo, and requiring a par for his second play-off in two years. Unfortunately Norman came up short with his second shot, and a relatively poor chip left him with a 12 foot putt to equal Faldo's 283. Alas Norman missed, the 18th again proving his downfall as it had in 1986. Another one bites the dust, as far as Faldo was concerned.

Faldo, pacing around in the Bobby Jones cabin for a good 45 minutes, now had two men to keep a nervous eye on. Crenshaw birdied both 16 and 17 to put himself in the same position as Norman coming down the 18th. But the 1984 champion would have a similar experience to Norman, a poor second drifting into a greenside bunker, Crenshaw later blaming the increasingly hideous conditions for his weak approach, stating that his hand had slipped off the club. His inability to get up and down from the sand cost him the chance of another green jacket. And then there was one.

Three major winners had seen their chances disappear in the Georgia rain, yet through it all Hoch remained. Indeed when he moved to -6 on the 15th the title was his to lose, although a poor second to the 17th seemed to put a dent in his hopes. A quite superb chip looked to have rescued the day, but incredibly Hoch missed from four feet, appearing to pull his putt amidst all the tension. He managed to gather himself down the last, missing an outside chance at a putt for the championship, and Hoch now had a short space of time to prepare for a sudden death shootout in the dark with Faldo.

The play-off

The 10th was the venue for the first play-off hole, and the location of one of the most memorable moments in Masters history. After all the hard work put in by Faldo to make the play-off, it seemed a shame that he should make a hash of his opportunity, yet after a sloppy approach shot into a bunker, Faldo was up against it. Faldo's bogey opened the door for Hoch, who conversely had played the hole in regulation. He was just eighteen inches from glory.

But having a putt for a major championship does funny things to a golfer. Hoch paced around the hole, lining his tiddler up from every conceivable angle, and taking a full minute to allow the enormity of the situation to seep into his body. "I knew he was thinking he had it for the Masters," Faldo said after the conclusion of the tournament. "I knew that when he hesitated and backed off".

Hoch's apparent indecision sparked memories of Doug Sanders' famous missed opportunity at St Andrew's in 1970. The putt may have been downhill, but in truth you could not have wished for a better chance to win a major. As Hoch's putt slid past, the American threw his putter to the heavens - "I'm glad I don't carry a gun with me right now," Hoch commented afterwards - as Faldo remained expressionless (on the outside at least) in a handy box in the top left hand corner of our televisions.

Faldo revealed exactly what he thought when Hoch missed: "I just stood there and watched. He opened the door for me. Now we go down to the 11th". Hoch made the four foot putt coming back, and the pair marched off to the 11th, Hoch's body language revealing to all just how he was feeling. The 11th may have been Faldo's hole of misery all week, but he now seemed to be in the ascendancy.

The fading light meant that hopes of deciding the winner on the Sunday probably required a conclusion at the 11th, Faldo giving himself an outside chance of victory by finally hitting the green in regulation, whereas Hoch pushed his second into Larry Mize country. Hoch could not repeat the heroics of Mize though, leaving Faldo with a boyhood golfing fantasy; a putt for the Masters.

Faldo struck his 25 foot putt confidently, the ball tracking beautifully before dropping into the heart of the hole. Raising his arms aloft with his mouth open in wonderment, Faldo put his hands to his head, barely able to comprehend what he had just pulled off. The man who had taken up the game after watching Jack Nicklaus win the 1971 Masters had now emulated his hero.

The fallout

"It means the world to me. Words don't describe this. I've seen other guys do this. Jack Nicklaus does this. I've sat and watched stuff like this on TV. And then to have it happen, it's a dream. You dream to have it happen and when it does, right before your eyes - ecstasy." Receiving his green jacket from Lyle in the Butler Cabin, Faldo had once again followed his rival in winning the Masters just as he had when lifting the Claret Jug. We didn't know it at the time, but Lyle was effectively passing on the baton of British golf to Faldo.

And what of Hoch? The press understandably questioned his bottle, the LA Times not the only newspaper to point out that his surname "rhymes with choke, which is a word that, sorry, cannot be avoided when a mortal misses a two-foot putt that could have made him immortal". It would be something that Hoch would unfortunately never live down, the "Hoch the Choke" tag following him around like a bad smell. After three putting from ten feet on the last green at the 1987 US PGA to miss out on a play-off, it was not hard to see why so many analysed Hoch's temperament.

Faldo, however, went from strength to strength. Coming back a year later, he became the first man to successfully defend the Masters title since Nicklaus, was a whisker away from a US Open play-off, and simply annihilated the field to win the Open at St Andrew's. From Nick Fold-o to Britain's greatest golfer of the modern era, his success story was a tale of hard work and dedication, determination and sheer bloody mindedness. He may have put a few noses out of joint along the way, but to Faldo the ends justified the means.

To think though that his first Masters triumph would not have been possible but for the Hoch aberration. The thin lines between success and failure were clear to see on that murky April day in 1989, as one man's misfortune was another's major benefit.

No comments:

Post a Comment