ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND, JULY 22 -- There was no better place to name the preeminent golfer than The Old Course, so steeped in history and sentiment, and in this case running with beer and song for an Englishman. Nick Faldo took his place here with unfaltering certainty, staring off gaudy Payne Stewart of the United States to win the British Open today by five strokes.
They hung from the balconies, roofs and lamp posts, a chanting golf riot as Faldo of Britain strode up the 18th fairway of par-72 St. Andrews. Faldo's final round of 71 for a total of 18-under 270 was more of an anointing, this workingman's son with a bronze-colored lock of hair flopped over one eye acclaimed as the greatest player in the world, on the oldest course. He began the day with a five-stroke lead and Stewart could not loosen Faldo's grip on the silver claret jug, which he won for the second time.
"When I first started playing, you are on the putting green facing a 10-foot putt, and you say, 'This is to win the Open,' " Faldo said. "And St. Andrews is the ultimate place."
Stewart, the stars and stripes emblazoned across his chest, cut Faldo's lead to two strokes through 12 holes. But his surge was smothered when he drove into the dread Coffin bunkers on the 13th. He then bogeyed the last two holes for a 71 and 275. He tied with South Africa's Mark McNulty, who shot an unforeseen and irrelevent 65 for his best finish in a major championship.
"Nick wasn't going to make any mistakes," Stewart said. "I played a good game but not good enough. He simply played too well."
The last holes were thus left solely to Faldo and his vociferous countrymen. All knew full well the significance of the victory, his fourth major championship by age 33, and his second Open, joining his 1987 victory. His total is a record for The Old Course and the 18 under shattered Tom Watson's mark of 13 under established at Turnberry in 1977.
Faldo, the two-time defending Masters titlist, is the first man to win two major championships in a season since Watson captured the U.S. and British opens in 1982. Since 1987 he has finished among the top four in eight major championships.
"I am hoping my record will show that my golf is talking," he said.
Faldo missed making a playoff at the U.S. Open by a lipped-out putt on the 72nd hole. Shortly after that tantalizing failure at Medinah, he began dreaming about the British Open. One night he dreamed he led by five strokes after three holes. In another dream, he had a four-shot lead on the last hole.
"I had some crazy dreams," he said. "I thought, 'Right, I am going to win the Open.' "
With his two firsts and a third in the season's majors and a chance to become the first man since Ben Hogan in 1953 to capture three in a season if he wins the PGA Championship next month at Shoal Creek, Faldo is incontrovertibly the dominant player of the moment. "Wouldn't you say he's the best player in the world?" Stewart asked. He has surpassed Curtis Strange and Seve Ballesteros, who both missed the 36-hole cut, and whoever else you'd care to mention, including Greg Norman.
Faldo may have won this title on Saturday with his 65 to burst out of a tie with Norman. He scathed the course to take his five-stroke lead while Norman quailed with a 76 and five three-putts. Norman's 69 this afternoon included a lengthy birdie putt on the final hole for 277, but it was far too little too late.
Norman's demise meant there was just one player of any standing left in Faldo's way -- Stewart, his 33-year-old contemporary. Stewart showed he was capable of coming from the pack with his victory at the PGA last August, when he made up six strokes on the last day. Faldo seemed secure with his five-shot lead and reputation for not letting up, but the burden was on him and he was not entirely nerveless.
"With a five-shot lead everybody expects me to win," he said. "If I lose, it's a major blowout."
Stewart set out to shoot 64 and got part way there, 4 under through the 12th. That made for a taut several holes, because while Faldo was making nine straight pars, from the sixth through the 14th, he was losing ground.
"I was within a couple of strokes and I felt if I could get a couple of more coming in, I had a chance," Stewart said.
Faldo birdied the first hole with a wedge to two feet. His intention was to birdie the first three and slam the door, but he never got as close to the flag again. "I knew exactly what was going on," he said. "I knew if I could slot one in here or there, I'd be waltzing."
But he swapped a bogey and a birdie on the fourth and fifth, and then had to content himself with the relentless pars. Watching the leader board and Stewart just a hole ahead of him, his throat couldn't help but tighten.
Stewart birdied the par-5 fifth and the par-4 sixth, drilling a 20-foot putt at the latter to move 14 under. He just missed a 15-footer at the ninth. At the reachable, 342-yard 10th, he drove the fringe of the green and curled a 35-foot eagle attempt to three feet, then made the birdie.
At the 172-yard 11th, Stewart made a spectacular save of par. He over-clubbed, his iron bounding through the green and into the shadows of the grandstand. But he sent a wedge to eight feet and sank the putt. Still exhilarated, he moved to the 12th, a par-4 of 316 yards, where he dropped a wedge eight feet away, and sank it. At 16 under to Faldo's 18, it was suddenly a tournament.
"It was pretty scary," Faldo said. "Anything could have happened."
But Stewart stepped up to the 13th tee, overlooking a par-4 of 425 yards, and promptly drove into the Coffin bunker to the left. He could not make the green or save par, missing a 20-foot putt. It was the first bunker he had been in all week.
"It took the wind out of my sails," he said. "I had been on a roll. It came at a bad time. I just didn't release the club. I hung it out there, and it went in the bunker."
It was the fifth time in six years Stewart had finished in the top eight in the British Open, and the second time he was a runner-up. But Stewart took no solace in an impressive record, brooding instead over the last two bogeys and a long list of frustrations.
"I still want to win this and I'll try again next year," he said. "To be second in the Open is irrelevent. It's the winning that it's all about. One of these years I'll do it."
Stewart's bogey was all the breathing room Faldo needed. The decisive stroke was a forceful 6-iron to eight feet at the 413-yard 15th. Finally, a putt dropped, to give him a four-stroke lead with three to play.
"I faced it and I said, 'I've just got to make that one now,' " he said. "That was the key moment."
Still there were some potential pitfalls left. Even in a weakened state with comparatively moderate wind, St. Andrews can cause shocking twists. There was the Principal's Nose bunker to avoid off the tee at the 16th, the Road Hole 17th and the Valley of Sin at the 18th. Faldo played them as he had all week, smoothly and discerningly -- he was in just one bunker over four days and did not three-putt.
"The drives coming in were the toughest," he said. "There are deep bunkers and if I had stuck it in one of those and run up a score, I would have been in serious trouble."
He was arch-conservative at the Road Hole, the 461-yard par-4 bordered by a deep bunker to the left and the road and stone wall to the right. His 3-iron didn't quite make the green and he left himself a 20-footer for par, more than willing to swallow the bogey rather than court disaster.
The 18th was a long, boisterous victory walk into the shadow of the Royal and Ancient gray stone clubhouse. Faldo cradled the jug in his arms and said, "I've got my baby back." Then he leaned closer and studied the inscripted names.
"You want to win at St. Andrews," he said. "On a day like this, with the atmosphere in this fabulous town."
Complete results, Page B6