A TURN FOR THE BETTER
Turnberry was still posing more questions than answers when The R&A opted to take the 106th Open Championship to its shores. The immediate facilities were lacking; accommodation was scarce and the nearest town of Ayr was some 14 miles away. Then there was the course. Would the Ailsa be too gimmicky for the staging of such an event? Unlike Muirfield, Birkdale and even St Andrews where you hardly get a sniff of the sea, the Ailsa’s proximity to the water meant there was an added danger that could make matters too difficult. All fears were put to bed though with a scatter of low scores in the opening round under benign conditions: Nicklaus would drop a 25-footer on the 18th to card a 68, the same score as Watson. Defending champion Johnny Miller shot 69 and American John Schroeder led with a six-under-par 66. After the second day, Roger Maltbie led with a total of 137. He would partner Hubert Green post cut, the reigning US Open champion. All eyes, however, were on Watson and Nicklaus – the second grouping out in the third round.
AND THEY’RE OFF
Ben Crenshaw struck early with a 66, but the galleries quickly swooped on Watson and Nicklaus. The American pairing would trade birdie after birdie, both signing for a 65 to hold a three-shot lead over Crenshaw. Tommy Horton and Gaylord Burrows sat six shots off the pace, with Maltbie, Trevino, Miller and Green all somewhat cast adrift for the final round.
BLOW FOR BLOW
Nicklaus was the first out of the blocks in the final round, birdieing the second hole while Watson had to settle for a bogey. The lead was extended to three shots with another birdie on the 4th. Watson birdied the 5th and 8th, but Nicklaus still led by two after 12. Watson came back with a 12-foot birdie on 13 before canning a 60-footer from the fringe on the par-3 15th. Both players parred the 16th. All-square heading to the par-5 17th; a birdie playground all week. Watson reached the putting surface in two, and made a regulation two-putt for birdie. Nicklaus, meanwhile, had to settle for a five after missing a three-footer. Still smarting, minutes later he would throw himself into his final drive on 18 with Watson dead centre on the fairway. That Nicklaus could even get a full swing on his second shot as the ball nestled in the rough short of the gorse meant anything out on the fairway would be miraculous. He went better, finding the green. But Watson was all over the pin with a 7-iron that had landed just feet away. Game over.
OVER TO YOU, SON
It seemed only right that Nicklaus would sink his 35-footer for birdie, forcing Watson to clean up for a record 65 in the final round of an Open Championship. Eleven shots off the pace in third, Hubert Green’s 279 would be good enough to win the title the next time the Open returned to Turnberry in 1986. “I won the ‘B Comp,” he would later muse…