Trevino takes title after tense final round
The Open Championship returned to Royal Birkdale in 1971. Some of the course bunkers had been re-faced in preparation but it was the uneven greens that caused the most player complaints. Defending Champion Jack Nicklaus and British favourite Tony Jacklin prepared to battle for the Open title alongside the big names of Roberto de Vicenzo, Gary Player and Doug Sanders. The presence of Lee Trevino, winner of the US Open and Canadian Open only weeks earlier, was expected to produce an exciting competition.
A mixture of fortunes characterised the first day of play. Nicklaus had a bold start, but problems at the 17th and 18th holes increased his score to 71. Jacklin also had an excellent start, but dropped shots later in his round to finish with 69 and a share of the lead. Peter Thomson and little known Taiwanese player Liang Huan Lu had rounds of 70. Trevino opened his competition in fine style, with 69 to join Jacklin, Howie Johnson and Argentinean Vicente Fernandez in the lead on 69. Player was disappointed with his score of 71, joining Bonallack and De Vicenzo further down the field.
After the second day’s play three shots separated ten players at the top of the table. Jacklin enjoyed better putting and his 70 gave him a share of the lead with Trevino who, after a troubled first nine, eagled the 18th and also finished on 70. Lu turned in a round of 70, his aggregate of 140 meaning he was just one shot off first position and was quickly becoming the crowd favourite. Nicklaus scored another 71, finishing only three shots from the top. Player had a scrambled round of 70 and Thomson and Sanders were also disappointed with their respective scores of 73 and 71.
Round three belonged to the young British player Peter Oosterhuis, who scored an excellent 66, breaking the course record and propelling him into 6th position. Craig DeFoy, another young player, went round in 68 for a share of 4th place. Trevino produced six birdies in his back nine to finish with a 69. He took the lead by one stroke, with Jacklin, who also had an excellent final nine, in second place on 209. Lu was a surprise contender in joint second position. The excellent play of Lu, Trevino and Jacklin placed them three shots clear of Player and DeFoy going into the final day, with Nicklaus only two shots behind them.
In the final round, Sanders found some form with a round of 67, which gave him joint 9th position. Oosterhuis was unable to repeat the magic of the previous day, finishing on 76. Player and Jacklin were paired together. Player’s round never got going and his final score of 72 meant he would finish in joint 7th place. Jacklin mounted a late challenge, finishing with three straight birdies and a total of 280, for 3rd position. Nicklaus also found some form, finishing his round with an eagle and a score of 69 for 5th position.
Trevino and Lu quickly became the pairing to watch. Both had early birdies, but before long Lu had pushed ahead. Trevino responded quickly and finished the first nine holes in just 31 strokes, compared to Lu’s 35. Errors by Trevino followed and by the 17th his lead had shrank to just three shots. Trevino hit his drive into a sand hill and eventually took five strokes to get onto the green and he finished with a double bogey 7. However Lu could only manage a par 5, so Trevino clung to a one stroke lead at the final hole.
At the 18th, Lu’s unfortunate second shot hit a female spectator. Worried about her injury, his concentration suffered but amazingly he rescued a brave birdie four, but it was not enough. Trevino had put his drive straight down the middle and also finished with a birdie four. His total of 278 meant he had taken the Open Championship by one shot from Lu.