ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Nick Faldo is padding about the home of golf these days as though it is his home, as though the old stone clubhouse is his castle and the Old Course his private province.
There is good reason for this. Faldo, who turned 38 on Tuesday, has been away for a while, over in the colonies honing his game for the past six months. Now he is back, very much on his own turf and his own terms, back to the place where five years ago this week he effectively, if temporarily, silenced his critics and stated his case as the master of the majors.
It was here in 1990, the last time the Open Championship was played on the course amid the spires and the spirits of the Old Town by the sea, that Faldo truly became the best major championship player in the world. His total of 280, 18-under par, was a record, not just for this major but for any major.
In a performance that was as close to celestial as the Old Course has seen in its 500-year existence, he glided across the premises on a cloud, three-putting just once, missing just three greens in regulation and avoiding all of St. Andrews 117 bunkers.
That performance seemed to presage a decade of dominance by Faldo. That hasn't exactly happened. He has won 12 tournaments, although just one major championship, since. But that does nothing to diminish the week he had here then, when he went head-to-head with Greg Norman and blew him away, 67 to 76, on Saturday and went on to win by five strokes.
"It was very special," Faldo said earlier this year, recalling the way he controlled the ball during that week to
win his second of three British Opens. "I just kept steaming ahead, kept on going, and it was really great to be in that frame of mind."
Faldo finds himself in a similar frame of mind this week. Although he did not play well in either the Masters, where he finished tied for 24th, or the U.S. Open, where he finished tied for 45th, he is coming off a strong second-place showing in last week's Scottish Open, and coming into a place that is made for his game.
St. Andrews is a course that demands a plan. Faldo has one, and always has, ever since his first appearance here in 1978 at the age of 20, when he followed the blueprint given to him by the late Gerald Micklem.
One of Britain's most revered golf figures, Micklem had won two English Amateur titles and was a member of four Walker Cup teams. He saw Faldo as Britain's most promising young player, and so decided to hand over to him a three-page outline of the Old Course that broke down every route -- those to be taken, those to be avoided.
"Every bunker was pinpointed, every hump and hollow," Faldo said. "It was extraordinary. It was incredible that he would provide me with such a guide."
Faldo recopied the notes on to 18 index cards, which he still has. He used them to nearly win that first time out, finishing tied for seventh, six strokes behind the winner, Jack Nicklaus. But he had shown that one day he would win, and after breaking though with his 1987 victory at Muirfield, Faldo has been Europe's most consistent performer in the majors.
In the Open Championship, he has been nonpareil since 1987. His finishes in the intervening years: first, third, tied for 11th, first, tied for 17th, first, second, tied for eighth.
Such a track record has made Faldo the heavy betting favorite at 7-1, so the British bookies would love to see him fail this year. Nothing personal, mind you, but he will cost bookies more than 1 million pounds if he wins his fourth Open.
Faldo earns more than $8 million a year in endorsements and had more than $2 million in golf course winnings worldwide last year. He could not care less about punters or bookies or the press. In fact, he doesn't care about much of anything but golf -- where he stands in it, and whether he can subdue it.
That was the whole reason he left his family and came to the United States this year, to play on better courses, to better prepare for the majors. In America, he won once, finished second once and had four top fives. The first two majors have been disappointing. But he has things working together now.
With his feet firmly planted on the auld sod, he looks like the man to beat at St. Andrews, the home of golf and Faldo's home, for now.
NOTES: Arnold Palmer is making his final appearance in the tournament. He won in 1961 and 1962 and has seven top-10 finishes in 22 starts. . . . Gary Player made his first appearance at St. Andrews in 1955 at age 19. He's the only player in the 20th century with victories in three decades: 1959 at Muirfield, 1968 at Carnoustie and 1974 at Royal Lytham. . . . U.S. Open champion Corey Pavin leads the U.S. Ryder Cup standings with 1,014.167 points. Bernhard Langer tops the European standings with 551,875.05 points. The biennial competition is Sept. 21-24 at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y.
Where: St. Andrews, Scotland
Course: St. Andrews Golf Club, Old Course (6,933 yards, par 72)
When: Today through Sunday
TV: Today and tomorrow (9 a.m., ESPN); Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (ABC); Sunday, 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. (ABC)
Winner's share: $198,938
Defending champion: Nick Price