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On Nick Faldo's coronation day, the sun was bright, the breeze fresh, the spirit jolly. Such a day on the Old Course can't be matched anywhere else. It is a course with 500 years of history and Sunday Faldo wrote his own chapter.

Faldo won the 119th British Open, playing strong and steady golf, and in the process crowned himself the best player in the world. He shot a mere 71, one under par, during his coronation walk. He made two bogeys after making two in the previous three rounds of 67-65-67. The round was good enough to win, beating Payne Stewart and Mark McNulty, who tied for second with 275, five strokes back.His play this year, has been good enough to earn the respect of the worldwide golfing community. His play in this tournament earned the cheers and applause of his countrymen as they raced up the 18th fairway with him, hung from the windows of hotels and apartments, stood tiptoe along the street and sat elegantly in expensive reserved seats. They held back no affection Sunday. "Our Nick" is the beacon in the twilight of Margaret Thatcher's England.

"To win at St. Andrews, in this atmosphere of this fantastic town, it's everybody's dream," Faldo said, searching for the words to match his emotions.

He added his second British Open title to his second consecutive Masters title. He finished third in the U.S. Open, has won four of the last 13 majors and looks forward to the PGA. Only Ben Hogan, in 1953, won three legs of the modern grand slam in one year. This is heady stuff, even for such a tournament-tested player as Faldo.

Before he teed off he was getting nervous. He couldn't get his full hour's nap, had a difficult time eating lunch. He needed to get inside the ropes, into his office where he has neatly arranged a swing that stands up to the moment. And he has a secretary, well she's really his caddy, Fanny Sunneson, who keeps him motivated and loose.

"She's a good, bubbly character," he said. "She's walking down the fairway asking me how many bedrooms there are in my new house, if we're going to get a dog. She works hard, is extremely competent."

He kissed Fanny sweetly on the cheek after his victory, kissed his wife and two children, shook the hands of the Royal and Ancient Golf Society biggies and accepted the silver claret jug that serves as the trophy. After holding it on high, a flight of RAF fighters from nearby Leuchars Air Force base buzzed in the course in a noisy salute.

Faldo's ascendancy to world prominence is still miles off the mark of Jack Nicklaus, who has set the standard for greatness in the sport. His 20 major titles is unequaled, and his sense of perspective on Faldo's achievements and status come from the highest plateau. After his round of 71 yesterday, Nicklaus took the time analyze Faldo's position.

"People started asking me about how many majors I'd won in 1970. By that time I had won 10. How many has Faldo won? Three?" Nicklaus said. "He's going to have to win a few more to be a dominant player. He may best the best player in this brief period of time."

Faldo has gotten Nicklaus' attention with the consistency of his swing. "I think he's absolutely dead flat confident he knows what he's doing," Nicklaus said. "He never seems to make a bad swing or make a bad shot. He's the one to look to in the next year or two to see if he can take it one step further. If he wins the championship today, he's taking it one step further."