Gary Player Takes The Open Title After Tough Final Round Battle
The 1968 Open was the fourth to be played over the links at Carnoustie. As the longest and most northerly course used in the Open circuit, it had gained a reputation as being the toughest. From day one, it was clear that the course would provide a tremendous challenge for the players. During this round, only four broke par and four equalled it. The wind increased during the day so those with a later start inevitably fared worse. By the end, Michael Bonallack and Brian Barnes were the leaders with 70, both having gained the advantage of an early start. Tony Jacklin had an excellent round of 72, despite taking seven at the 11th hole. Bob Charles and Billy Casper also managed 72. Gary Player struggled with his long game and was disappointed with 74 and Jack Nicklaus had trouble with his putting, completing his round in 76. Roberto de Vicenzo and Bruce Devlin battled round in 77 while Doug Sanders’ score of 78 was not improved by receiving a Panmuir instead of a Carnoustie scorecard to mark at the start of his round.
The second day saw more settled golf from most of the players. The day belonged to Casper, who had a magnificent 68 to go four strokes into the lead at the end of the day. Charles had a calm round of 72 despite missing a number of birdie putts, placing him in joint second place. Nicklaus had a difficult round of 69, but this moved him up to joint 3rd position. Good putting from Player saw him finish on 71 to join Nicklaus and Irishman Paddy Skerritt in 3rd. Jacklin and Barnes withstood the pressure, scoring 72 and 74 respectively and moving into joint second position with Charles. Bonallack dropped back with a round of 77.
By the end of the third day’s play, the competition was still wide open and it seemed the course was getting the better of the players. Jacklin scored 75 — the first nine holes had been good, but he dropped four shots over the final holes. Barnes ended on 80, and his hopes of an Open win were gone. Casper’s round of 74 was enough to keep him in the lead by one shot at the end of the day. Charles was only a stroke behind, and Player had another promising round, finishing with a total of 216, just two off the lead. Nicklaus was also in contention, only four shots back from the lead after an uneven round which included an eagle at the 14th and a five at the 16th.
The final round produced a gritty, hard fought finish. Jacklin fell away early, taking eight at the 7th hole. Casper and Charles went out last and just in front of them were Nicklaus and Player. The South African went into the lead at the 6th hole and his round really began to take off, while Nicklaus drove out of bounds at this hole. The excitement built as Player dropped a shot at the 10th and was caught by Charles and Casper when Player finished the 13th, meaning all three were two over for the championship, with Nicklaus two shots behind.
At the 14th Player, playing his second shot, hit a Championship defining 3 wood to within inches of the hole for a birdie, while Casper and Charles made mistakes at the 14th and 15th and began to drop shots. Nicklaus mounted a strong challenge and began to hit superb drives but could not close the gap. By the 17th, there were still two shots separating him and Player. Nicklaus struck a huge drive down the 17th, but failed to get the birdie he needed while Player hit a magnificent approach putt from the fringe of the green that stopped six inches from the hole, having travelled some 60 feet to save par. At the 18th, Nicklaus hit a booming drive while Player put his second shot into thick rough on the right. Nicklaus’ second shot ended in the right hand bunker next to the green whilst Player’s third shot landed on the green. Nicklaus needed to hole out from the bunker to have any chance to tie but the shot was not on. Player was down in two to gain his second Open title. With a total of 289, he finished one over par with Nicklaus and Charles two shots behind in joint second place and Casper, a further shot behind on 292.