ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND, JULY 20 -- While The Old Course heaved the timid and uncertain off its aged back, Greg Norman and Nick Faldo clung together in an absorbing tie for the lead today after two rounds of the British Open. Longtime international rivals vying for predominance, they were four strokes ahead of anybody else at a record-tying 12 under par.
If only the British Open can end this way, with such a rich variety of events. Some of them were appalling -- Seve Ballesteros, Curtis Strange, Tom Watson and defending titlist Mark Calcavecchia missing the cut. But Australia's Norman and Great Britain's Faldo waged a memorable duel over par-72 St. Andrews, where the loop got caned but good.
Norman lofted a sand wedge into the par-5 14th hole for an eagle and had his second straight round of 66. Faldo struck two late, determined irons to tap-in distance for birdies and posted a graceful 65. Their totals of 132 tied the record for lowest score after 36 holes, set by Henry Cotton in 1932 at Sandwich. The closest pursuers were Craig Parry of Australia and PGA champion Payne Stewart, with their 68s for 136.
"It was good stuff," Faldo said. "You sailed along playing well, looking at the board and seeing the scores going up on every hole. We were going for every pin and trying to make every putt."
The loop is what the old Scots call the stretch of holes from seven through 11, a shepherd's crook curl where scoring must be done before St. Andrews turns vicious in a frisky reverse wind off the sea.
Ian Woosnam of Wales suffered an agonizing late collapse as he lost three strokes over the last four holes after going step for step with Norman and Faldo. At 10 under through 14, he made a double bogey from a bottomless bunker on the 17th, the Road Hole, for a 69 and 137, tied with three others.
One of them was obscure Englishman Jamie Spence, a qualifier and the first man off the tee, at 7:15 a.m. His 65 was the low round of the day until Faldo equaled it.
Those in the original field of 156 who failed to wring birdies out of the generous, sun-drenched course were in peril of missing the cut to the low 70 players (and all within 10 strokes of the lead). It fell at a record 1-under 143, 72 players surviving. The previous record was set last year at windless Royal Troon, 2-over 146. Arnold Palmer, at 60 playing the last British Open of his career, was one casualty as he missed by just a stroke.
Calcavecchia shot a 75 -- 146 that he called "idiotic." He needed two shots to get out of a bunker on the par-4 10th hole, missed an eight-inch putt on the par-4 13th, and a three-footer on the par-4 15th. He was the first defender to miss the cut since Watson in 1976. "It's painful," Calcavecchia said. Watson bogeyed two of the last three holes for a 73 -- 145 to end for this year his pursuit of Harry Vardon's record six Open titles.
Strange, the two-time U.S. Open champion, was tentative on the severe, elongated greens, with a 71 -- 145. Spain's Ballesteros made his second double bogey in two days en route to a 74 -- 145. He won here in 1984 and had not missed a British Open cut since his debut in the tournament in 1975, but he has been disorganized all season, awaiting the birth of his first child, and he ducked out the door almost cheerfully.
"It happens once in every family," he said.
That left the spotlight on Norman and Faldo. Each has bogeyed just twice in the tournament, and each has holed out fairway wedge shots for eagles.
Norman, whose only major title came in the 1986 British Open, is determined to put numerous runner-up finishes behind him, like his playoff loss to Calcavecchia last year.
"I don't care who's in front of me or who's behind me," Norman said. "I'm going to play the best I can, and if somebody beats me, that's good enough. If not, I'll be a happy man to win."
He lofted a 75-yard sand wedge to the 14th green, where it touched down two yards beyond the flag and spun backward into the hole as if it were on a string.
"It was a real shot in the arm," he said. "I couldn't see in go in, but I looked in the grandstand and that was enough to tell."
That was merely the largest noise in an explosive round of eight birdies. Norman caned the loop about as well as it can be done, birdieing the seventh through the 10th. At the 342-yard 10th, he hit a colossal drive to the front edge of the green and two-putted from 40 feet. His last birdie came at the 382-yard 16th, where he drifted a 4-iron to 18 feet and smoothly stroked in the putt.
"I'm not really that excited," he said. "I feel happy with my position, and comfortable. I feel like my normal self, I suppose. I feel in control."
Norman will need his composure in the face of the persistence of Faldo, the two-time defending Masters champion and 1987 British Open titlist who rarely goes away once he is in contention. Faldo did not make a bogey, and every time Norman threatened to pull ahead he somehow slipped another stroke below par to stay with him.
He birdied the fifth through the seventh. At the 15th, a par-4 of 413 yards, he stabbed a 6-iron just two feet from the flag. At the 16th, his 7-iron plunged from the sky and stopped dead four feet from the cup. He tapped in the putt for the last of his seven birdies.
But there are plenty of potential interlopers. One of them is Stewart, 33, who won his first major at last year's PGA. He has two victories this season and is talented enough to join the elite winners of multiple majors. He is a perennial threat in the British, finishing no worse than eighth in four of the last five years and the runner-up in 1985. He missed just one green this afternoon, and has been in only one bunker in two rounds.
"I feel I'm capable of winning," he said. "But I'm not going to sit here and say that I am going to win, because there are too many variables. I'm just playing the game the way it presents itself to me."
Another is Parry, 24, whose bogey at the 17th cost him sole possession of second place. Or Peter Jacobsen, whose 70 put him at 6-under 138 with five others, including Jose-Maria Olazabal of Spain, the 24-year-old successor to Ballsteros who is considered overdue in a major championship and has not missed a green in two days, shooting 67 today.
Jacobsen accomplished a rare birdie on the 461-yard Road Hole that has so tormented the field. Thursday he double-bogeyed it, but today he made a nearly impossible, twisting 75-foot putt from the front of the green and along the edge of a steep bunker.
"It was one of those magical moments when I knew I was going to make it," he said. "I hardly looked at it, and I told my caddy to get the flag and get ready to take the ball out of the hole."
But it would somehow be fitting if Norman, 35, and Faldo, 33, continued their duel for the next 36 holes. They are longtime acquaintances who spent some competitive years together on the European Tour.
"We're friends, we kind of grew up together over here," Norman said. "We've been competing with each other for close on a decade."