Sir Nick can’t resist another shot at Muirfield

If given the option, Nick Faldo would prefer not to be standing

over a putt to win the British Open.

”I’m either going to win by six,” Sir Nick joked Monday, ”or

be stuck in the hay somewhere.”

There’s a lot better chance of the latter happening.

Faldo is grabbing the clubs again for what will surely be his

final Open, though his chances of being the latest 50-something

player to make a serious run at the claret jug are beyond

improbable.

He hasn’t played a truly competitive round since his last Open

at St. Andrews in 2010, hasn’t played much at all over the last

three years. But Faldo couldn’t resist the chance to celebrate his

birthday – he turns 56 on Thursday, the day of the opening round –

at a course that means so much to him.

Faldo won the first of his major titles at Muirfield in 1987.

Five years later, he added his name to the claret jug again at the

very same place.

Both times, he won by a stroke, with a par on the 72nd hole.

”Wow, I’ve got a very special place here – the 18th green at

Muirfield,” Faldo said. ”That won in my heart and my mind.”

While making the cut is probably about the best he can hope for,

Faldo has relished the process of trying to get his game – and his

body – back in shape to be somewhat competitive with players half

his age.

He’s been rehabbing his ailing left shoulder. He’s been working

on his swing with those high-tech gadgets that weren’t around in

his prime. He chatted up Gio Valiante, the sports psychologist for

new U.S. Open champion Justin Rose.

”I’ve gleaned a few gems there,” Faldo said. ”These kids,

they’ve got it all now. We were still searching back in my time.

I’m really enjoying that. The bottom line, I hope that for the end

of the week I’m inspired, like all of us; that I want to play again

and have another go here. I think that’s really what’s in

mind.”

He figured he was done after that last Open at St. Andrews,

where he shot 81 on a windy second day and didn’t come close to

making the cut.

”I didn’t enjoy that,” he said.

But that all changed when Faldo was doing a commercial shoot a

few months ago, in which he was asked to talk about his favorite

courses. At first, he thought of the coastline at Pebble Beach, the

towering pines at Augusta National, the history and atmosphere at

St. Andrews. Then, he remembered Muirfield.

”That maybe sowed some seeds,” he said. Later, ”I was in my

gym at home, and I thought at the time, `You’re just strong enough

to have a go.’ It might be the last chance I get to walk with

fellow Open champions. And so I kind of said, `OK, I’m going to go

for it.”’

Faldo is paired in the first two rounds with Fred Couples and

five-time Open champion Tom Watson.

”I’m delighted with my draw,” Faldo said. ”If I’m feeling

intense, I’ll go and talk to Tom. If I want to feel relaxed, I’ll

talk to Freddie. That’s a great threesome.”

In 2009, a few months shy of his 60th birthday, Watson nearly

became the oldest major champion in history. He led going to the

72nd hole at Turnberry, only to make a bogey and lose in a playoff

to Stewart Cink.

Experience clearly counts in this tournament. A year before

Watson’s remarkable performance, 53-year-old Greg Norman was the

leader heading to the final day at Royal Birkdale.

Faldo has no illusions about making a similar run, saying it

”would be quite an achievement if I could hover close to making

the cut.” Besides, he would prefer to avoid the sort of anguish

that Watson was inevitably feeling as a sixth Open title slipped

away.

”It could’ve been the greatest sporting achievement of all

time,” Faldo said. ”I would be scarred from that, if I had a putt

to win the Open, even at 59. And Tom is a very strong man. He

probably won’t really let on, but that would scar me. So I’m going

to avoid having to putt to win.”

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at

www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963