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Last Updated: Saturday, 16 July, 2005, 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK
Faldo reaches end of Open road
By Matt Slater
BBC Sport at St Andrews

Jack Nicklaus was adamant this week would not turn into a two-day farewell parade. He came to the 134th Open Championship "as a contender, not a monument".

And the competitive fire that helped win him 18 majors did not stop burning until he bogeyed the 17th and saw his chance of making the cut finally disappear.

Six-time major winner Nick Faldo may have won his last Open title
Faldo's days as a potential winner have gone
It was then, and only then, that Nicklaus dropped his guard and allowed himself to enjoy his valedictory championship hole.

Nick Faldo, another three-time Open champion, will know how his hero is feeling today.

The Englishman, 48 on Monday, has Nicklaus' battling instincts - and during his pomp he also had the Golden Bear's unflinching putting stroke.

The fire still burns in Faldo, but the spark with the flat stick has gone out.

Watching the six-time major winner from tee to green, it is possible to imagine a seventh big prize is not beyond him.

After all, a 46-year-old Nicklaus did it at the Masters in 1986.

But the Golden Bear still knew his "bread and butter" then. Faldo has lost all contact with his.

In many ways, his efforts this week have mirrored those of Nicklaus.

Friday's scenes would have to have been postponed if the American had been able to hole a few putts.

Faldo took 34 putts on Thursday, 30 on Friday and 31 on Saturday. That's 31.7 putts per round - about three more than an Open champion would expect to take.

And what those numbers don't show is how many of those 31.7 putts per round were 15-footers that used to drop but now refuse to co-operate.

Having started his round on one under, the 1990 champion here looked in good touch after a birdie at the long fifth that took him to three under.

But then reasonable birdie opportunities were spurned at six, seven and eight.

He had to play backwards out of a fairway bunker on the ninth, but this time his putter played ball and par was saved.

Sadly, the return of his putting stroke was temporary as very makeable birdie chances went begging on 10 and 11.

Faldo rues another missed putt on Saturday
Faldo's body language says it all as another putt refuses to drop
By now the body language was starting to scream "?&*!". Having reached the fringe at the 12th, he needed three raps of his misfiring putter to finish the job. It was head in hands time.

The worse his putting got, the longer the pre-putt routine became. The only angle Faldo wasn't checking could only have been provided by the Royal Bank of Scotland blimp.

But despite - or perhaps because of - these navigational aids, Faldo's ball continued to show all the homing instincts of a teenager at a great party.

Meanwhile, Faldo's playing partner, Darren Clarke, was having an erratic day on the dance floor.

The 36-year-old Ulsterman was almost as bad on the greens as Faldo on the first two days, but on Saturday improved to 27 putts.

Faldo, however, did not miss anything as short as Clarke did on the 11th - an 18-inch tiddler stayed up to bring a second straight bogey for the Northern Irish star.

At that point it looked as though the red mists would roll in and engulf Clarke.

He had birdied four straight from the fifth to reach five under and then saved a superb par after a penalty drop at the ninth. But the bogeys threatened to wreck all that good work.

Thankfully, Clarke's mood is less connected to his golf these days, and an enormous drive and two putts at the 12th got his momentum going forward again.

Darren Clarke
Clarke takes a more laid-back attitude to golf these days
It got even better at the next. Having spent the first two days bemoaning his prodigal putter, Clarke sank a roller-coaster from 20 yards for birdie.

Even Faldo got excited about that one, although the smile disappeared when his six-foot par putt stayed above ground.

The next four holes brought a further birdie for Clarke and anguish for Faldo, who had now started contorting his body into unusual yoga shapes between shots.

But the Englishman had the last laugh, well, smile. Both players drove the 18th green but only Faldo could cross the huge putting surface in two shots for birdie.

That left him on three under, three behind Clarke and eight off Woods' overnight lead.

Most almost-48-year-olds would be more than happy to be able to say the same, but Faldo isn't most almost-48-year-olds.

Just as Nicklaus only came to St Andrews because he thought he could play four competitive rounds, Faldo only plays because he still thinks he can win.

But while it is difficult to imagine Faldo ever agreeing to a ceremonial role, his days as a potential winner have gone. The reassessment of pre-event goals may be a tricky one for this most competitive of sportsmen.

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