125th Open - Royal Lytham & St Annes 1996
Lehman breaks the American jinx
In becoming the first American professional to win at Royal Lytham & St Annes, and the first player from across the Atlantic since the great amateur Bobby Jones won the inaugural Open at Lytham in 1926, Tom Lehman showed both perseverance and brilliance. The latter came especially on Saturday when the 37-year-old from Minnesota set a new course best of 64 that gave him a new record of 198 strokes for the first 54 holes. He had beaten the old mark by one stroke, achieved twice by Nick Faldo, who by co-incidence was his nearest challenger, six strokes behind. By an even greater co-incidence Faldo had won the Masters three months earlier from six shots behind Greg Norman.
“It was not pretty but it was gritty. It was a struggle but I stuck it out. It really is the greatest day of my life.”
History would not repeat itself. Faldo missed several chances over the opening holes, not least from seven feet at the par-3 first. Lehman had raced his first putt six feet past and he would keep holing the par-putts all day even if the birdies dried up. He had only one, at the short 12th, but a closing 73 was good enough for a two-stroke victory over Ernie Els and Mark McCumber.
Faldo finished fourth but once his challenge faded Lehman, who had lost the 54-hole lead at the US Open the previous month, still had to hold on under great pressure, not least from Els who made four birdies coming home before bogeying two of the last three holes. “It was not pretty but it was gritty,” Lehman said. “It was a struggle but I stuck it out. It really is the greatest day of my life.”
Tiger Woods finished tied for 22nd, scoring a 66 in the second round which tied Frank Stranahan’s record for an amateur, and won the Silver Medal in what would be his last Major before turning professional.