SANDWICH, England -- On the historic stage that he most lives to shine on, Nick Faldo was at his brilliant best yesterday. The Englishman sculpted a record 63 that gave him a narrow lead over a pack of renowned pursuers in the second round of the 122nd British Open.
With a dramatic birdie-3 at the 468-yard 18th hole, which brought a rich roar from the packed grandstands surrounding the green, Faldo broke the Royal St. George's competitive course record of 64, set by Christy O'Connor in the first round of the 1985 Open. He also equaled the lowest round ever shot in the British Open, tying five other players.
Most relevant to the task at hand, the 35-year-old's 36-hole total of 8-under-par 132 gave him a one-stroke lead in the championship he has already won three times, in 1987, 1990 and last year.
"I guess it was as good as I've ever played," said Faldo, who had birdie putts inside 25 feet on all but two holes. "The fact I created so many good chances, that obviously is the way to continue. Every shot I hit was going in the right direction all the time."
On the course that many consider the most difficult on the British Open rotation, Faldo took full advantage of the still rain-softened greens that mitigated the effects of the heavy coastal winds that regularly blow off Pegwell Bay. But he wasn't the only one to succeed -- his four closest pursuers make up a current who's who of golf.
One stroke back, at 133, is the reigning Masters champion Bernhard Langer, who shot a 66. The 35-year-old German's best finishes in the world's oldest major championship have been here at St. George's, where he was second in 1981 and tied for third in 1985.
"My golf has been pretty good the last two days," said Langer. "Almost as good as at Augusta. But it's too early to get really excited."
Tied for third, at 134, are the imposing threesome of Greg Norman, who had a 68, and Fred Couples and Corey Pavin, each of whom had a 66. Over the past three seasons, each has taken a turn as the leading money winner on the PGA Tour.
Except for Pavin, four of the leaders are in the top five of the Sony Ranking. Missing is Nick Price, who is ranked second to Faldo and who is still in contention after a 70 that left him at 138 and six strokes off the lead at 2-under par.
Until the 17th hole, John Daly was rocketing up the leader board. Six-under par at that point, Daly double-bogeyed the 425-yard, par-4 hole when he needed three putts from 6 feet. Still, his 66 gave him a total of 137. Playing in his second British Open, Daly is hitting the ball solidly, using his tremendous length wisely, and feeding off the British fans who are clearly enthralled by his style.
"If I get it going tomorrow, I want the crowd to go crazy," said Daly, who was inspired by a similar gallery response in his victory at the 1991 PGA Championship. "I want to hear them yell. I might want to yell right back at them. I am one of them."
A longtime hero, Jack Nicklaus, fell out of the tournament after a 75 that put him one stroke above the unusually low 36-hole cut of 3-over-par 143. Also missing the cut were Tom Watson, Davis Love III, Gary Player and Sandy Lyle, the winner here in 1985.
But it is Faldo whom the multitudes are most focused on. After opening with a solid but unspectacular 69, he knew before teeing off at 1:20 p.m., local time, that Langer and Couples had set the standard for the day with their 66s.
"I saw everyone was steaming along, and that puts your mind in gear," said Faldo, who hit a 5-iron approach to within 4 feet of the cup on the first hole and made the putt. "That first birdie was important, but I still thought, 'You are only two under, you are not really in this at the moment.' "
That changed quickly when he erupted with three straight birdies beginning at the fifth. And like Daly, Faldo fed off the spectators who seemed to sense something special was at hand.
"The gallery really got me going," he said. "When I walked down the sixth the hill was solid with people. It creates an atmosphere before you have even done anything." Faldo made solid pars until the 443-yard 13th, where his downwind approach shot with a 9-iron stopped 4 feet from the hole, and he made the putt. On the par-5 14th, he missed his only fairway of the day, pulling a 2-iron into deep rough on the left.
"Nick's obviously really on top of his game, but he is not infallible," said Norman. "He's No. 1, and that's like a target you wear on your chest. I think we'd all like to knock him off, no question about it."
The leader . . .
Nick Faldo 69-63--132
. . . and followers
Bernhard Langer .. .. .. .67-66--133
Fred Couples.. .. .. .. ..68-66--134
Greg Norman.. .. .. .. ...66-68--134
Corey Pavin.. .. .. .. ...68-66--134
Peter Senior.. .. .. .. ..66-69--135
Fuzzy Zoeller.. .. .. ....66-70--136
Larry Mize.. .. .. .. .. .67-69--136
John Daly .. .. .. .. .. .71-66--137
Gil Morgan .. .. .. .. ...70-68--138
Scott Simpson .. .. .. ...68-70--138
Nick Price .. .. .. .. ...68-70--138
Mark Calcavecchia .. .. ..66-73--139
Lee Janzen .. .. .. .. ...69-71--140
Seve Ballesteros .. .. ...68-73--141
Ian Baker-Finch .. .. .. .73-69--142
Tom Kite .. .. .. .. .. ..72-70--142
Paul Azinger .. .. .. .. .69-73--142
Raymond Floyd .. .. .. ...70-72--142
Ian Woosnam .. .. .. .. ..72-71--143
Payne Stewart .. .. .. ...71-72--143
Complete scores: 5C