Thursday, Jul. 16, 2009

The Duel in the Sun (1977)

It's fitting that the finest moment in Open history comes at Turnberry, the location for this year's tournament. In 1977, under the scorching Scottish sun, Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus slugged it out like heavyweight boxers. By the start of the third round, the two Americans were clear of the field and had only each other to worry about (they'd carded the same scores of 68 and 70). Naturally, they were paired together on the Saturday and proceeded to once again match each other, this time with impressive 65s. On the final day, Watson famously turned to Nicklaus on the 16th tee and remarked, "This is what it's all about, isn't it?" Nicklaus smiled back and replied, "You bet it is."

What it was all about, ultimately, was the 18th hole. After he finally edged ahead of his rival on 17, Watson's subsequent drive (with a one-iron!) was followed by Nicklaus finding the heavy rough. Then Watson chipped to within 18 in. of the hole and the championship. Undeterred (this was Jack Nicklaus, after all), the Golden Bear thrashed through the thicket and knocked the ball to the edge of the green. Incredibly, Nicklaus sank a sublime 35-ft. putt for birdie, making Watson's tap-in suddenly look a lot more intimidating. Nicklaus appealed for calm from the crowd by raising his hands, and Watson rolled it in to win the Claret Jug. Sportingly, Nicklaus thrust his arm around Watson's shoulder, and they walked off to the scorer's tent.