Masters Memories: Nick Faldo’s Dramatic First Win in 1989

Ahead of this week’s Masters, Rory Jiwani travels down memory lane to look back at some classics at the Augusta National.

First up it’s Nick Faldo’s dramatic first triumph in 1989.

In 1988, Sandy Lyle became the first Briton to win the Masters. That glorious iron out of the fairway bunker into the heart of the 18th green, Peter Alliss almost imploring the ball to spin back towards the hole, a nerveless putt, and the running-on-the-spot celebration.

Rather like London buses, after a lifetime of waiting for one British victor at Augusta, Nick Faldo made it two in the space of 12 months. And what a triumph it was.

Welwyn Garden City’s finest had already won his first major, the 1987 Open Championship, after a final round of 18 pars at Muirfield. He then lost a Monday play-off at the US Open the following year to Curtis Strange at Brookline.

Ever the perfectionist, Faldo seemed to be constantly tinkering with his game. His swing was often a work in progress and he might have struggled today with his relative lack of distance from the tee. That said, he was one of the greatest long-iron hitters in the history of the game.

But in 1989, it was his putter that was letting him down in his first year as a member of the US PGA Tour.

Desperate times called for desperate measures, and an old school Bullseye stick and a new putting stroke were employed for Augusta. Incredibly, the plan worked out.

Faldo was tied for the lead with Lee Trevino after two rounds, the second in unusually inclement weather which continued all weekend. On Saturday, Trevino dropped down the leaderboard with the Englishman also struggling. One man who certainly was not was Ben Crenshaw.

Five years after securing his first Green Jacket, ‘Gentle Ben’ was shining in the gloom. When play was suspended on Saturday, Crenshaw was three-under-par through 13 holes for a four-under total, four clear of Faldo, Scott Hoch and another American Mike Reid.

On Sunday morning, Faldo dropped two more strokes to lie five off the pace going into the final round. Crenshaw dropped a stroke at the last and his lead was down to one as Hoch and Reid both picking up two strokes on the way home. Seve Ballesteros birdied three of his last five holes to move to level par giving the Spaniard a sniff of his third Masters title.

Pre-tournament favourite Greg Norman had also moved into contention thanks to a superb 68. He was one-over, one shot ahead of Faldo who had played his first 27 holes in six-under, and his next 27 in eight-over.

Faldo hit the practice green and switched putters again. And again, success came immediately.

A monster birdie from 50 feet got the ball rolling on the first. He picked up three more strokes on the front nine to go out in 32 and move to two-under. But Ballesteros went out in 31 to go to five-under with Hoch soon joining him atop the leaderboard.

Faldo’s new putter could not prevent him maintaining his 100 percent record of bogeys at the 11th, but he made the rest of Amen Corner look easy. A par on 12 was followed by two immaculate woods for an eagle chance at 13. He just missed but a birdie

The best was yet to come. A trademark pinpoint iron set up another birdie at 14. And then two astonishing putts on 16 and 17 yielded two more to take Faldo to seven-under for his round and into a share of the lead on five-under.

He arguably had an easier putt on the last to set an even stiffer clubhouse target but it just slipped wide. Still, his 65 was the round of the week. And his rivals were floundering as soon as they hit the front.

Reid chipped in on the 12th to go to six-under but his hopes ended in the water. Ballesteros also found the drink to wreck his chances.

Norman made six birdies in nine holes to go to the last needing a par to force a play-off. But the Australian fluffed his chip and missed a 12-footer to finish one adrift.

After birdying 16 and 17, Crenshaw also needed a par at the last to join Faldo in the clubhouse on five-under. But he failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker.

Only Florida-based Hoch remained of the home challenge. He birdied 15 to go to six-under but missed from four feet on the 17th to slip back into a share of the lead. Speaking 25 years later, Hoch blamed a lapse in concentration after a fan yelled out that he needed two pars to win.

Unlike Norman and Crenshaw, he was able to par the last and force a sudden death playoff.

As darkness descended on Augusta, Hoch and Faldo went to the 10th tee. Faldo found the sand with his approach, handing the American the initiative.

Hoch had won three times since making his PGA Tour debut in 1979, but he had not tasted victory in almost five years. And it showed.

He tried to cosy up his birdie putt from 30 feet to the hole but left it on the high side, never advisable at Augusta. Faldo missed his par putt to leave the American a two-footer for his first major. Not a gimme, but a short putt nonetheless.

As Faldo watched on impassively, Hoch started his putt to the left of the hole. And he threw his putter up in the air as the ball stayed left, speeding four feet past. He managed to gather himself to sink the putt coming back before the pair walked to the 11th.

Despite his reprieve, Faldo was approaching a hole he had bogeyed every time that the week. Somehow, he got it right when it mattered most in fading light. While Hoch missed the green with his approach, Faldo found the middle of the dance floor some 25 feet from the pin.

With Hoch unable to repeat Larry Mize’s sudden death heroics of 1987, Faldo had a putt for the Green Jacket. In it dropped to make the 30-year-old a two-time major winner.

Faldo won again at Augusta the following year as well as claiming his second Claret Jug at St Andrews. He became world number one for the first time in September 1990, holding top spot for a total of 97 weeks up until February 1994.

In 1996, he capitalised on Norman’s dramatic last round collapse to win his third Masters and the last of his six major titles.

Three weeks after his Augusta failure, Hoch claimed his fourth of 11 PGA Tour victories. He has since won three times on the Champions Tour, but he never came closer to a major.

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Originally published at BetBright Blog.