Nick Faldo

Nick Faldo shot an 8-over 79 in the first round of the Open Championship on Thursday.

Nick Faldo takes trip down memory lane at Muirfield

By Steve Douglas
Associated Press

GULLANE, Scotland (AP) -- Nick Faldo paced backward and forward, frantically making practice swings as he looked up the narrow fairway on the first hole at Muirfield.

He was about to hit his first shot at a British Open in three years and it wasn't something he was looking forward to. Even six-time major champions still get nervous.

"It was scary going to that first tee," Faldo said, shaking his head as if recalling a nightmare.

After steadying himself, he planted his drive in the middle of the fairway -- just like the old days -- the ball eventually dribbling down to the light rough. It proved to be the highlight of his round: He went on to shoot an 8-over 79.

"I'm just here to walk and enjoy," said Faldo, who won't be raising the claret jug Sunday for a fourth time.

Faldo won two of his Opens at Muirfield, in 1987 and 1992, and decided to play this year only because the links course in East Lothian is among his favorites.

He has barely played since the 2010 tournament at St. Andrews, his time now being filled up with television commentary in the United States and charity work with his Faldo Series.

Tom Watson and Fred Couples, Americans with nine more major titles between them, joined "Sir Nick" on his trip down memory lane Thursday in one of the most crowd-pleasing groupings of the first round.

His partners shot 75s and could yet feature this weekend. For Faldo, though, it was part-fun, part-pain on his 56th birthday.

"Yeah, I did all right. The long swings were pretty darn good," he said, before adding: "But I've got no touch."

Ever the obsessive perfectionist, Faldo went through his practice swings as he walked up each fairway on the front nine, regularly flexing his fingers and stretching his arms and shoulders. His body was taking a beating after years of inactivity.

But it wasn't the same Faldo as two or three decades ago.

In his pomp, he had tunnel-vision, rarely engaging with his playing partners during a round. Here, he laughed and joked with Watson as he walked up the first fairway -- they talked about tornadoes and Watson's love of shooting -- and enjoyed the warmth he received from the spectators, who may have been watching Britain's greatest ever player on a golf course for the final time.

"It was great," Faldo said. "I hope somebody got a happy snap of that from behind the (first) tee. Seriously, that was the best view of the day. When I looked down No. 1 and saw the hill going and everything, and (spectators) were four deep at that time, which is pretty darn cool.

"That was a moment of the day for me."

That, and an up-and-down from a greenside bunker at No. 18 that spared him slipping into the 80s. That was a victory of sorts.

"That was a hell of a bunker shot, wasn't it?" he said. "Did you see Tom even acknowledge that one. A bit of class, he said. So there you go, that made my day."

Faldo doesn't know whether Friday's second round will be his last competitive 18 holes. He says he won't be competing at next year's Open at Royal Liverpool but isn't ruling out St. Andrews in 2015 just yet.

"Who knows? It wouldn't be such a bad idea coming out at 60 just to keep yourself fit," Faldo said.

"I've got to pace myself," he added. "Come on, guys. This is one tournament in the last three years. Steady on. One in a row."