Miller and Ballesteros battle for the title
The 1976 Open was played at Royal Birkdale. The hot, dry summer had left the fairways parched and the greens in such a poor condition as to cause problems for the players. The big names of Player, Nicklaus, Jacklin and Johnny Miller arrived to do battle over the course. The first day consisted of cautious play with only nine breaking par. Christy O’Connor Jr, Norio Suzuki of Japan and the nineteen year old Spaniard Severiano Ballesteros had the best scores of 69. Miller had problems with his putting and scored 72 while Jack Newton managed 70. Jacklin and Nicklaus were disappointed with their respective scores of 73 and 74.
The second round saw lower scoring. Miller had four birdies in the final six holes to score 68 and moved into second place. The best round of the day came from little known American Carl Higgins who scored 67 and he joined Nicklaus, who scored a more encouraging 70, in joint 8th position. Ray Floyd also scored 67, for an aggregate of 143 and joint 5th place. Ballesteros rallied strongly to go round the back nine in 33 strokes for a round of 69 to finish two strokes ahead at the top of the table.
The third day saw strong winds and rain and the higher scores reflected this. Gary Player struggled round in 79. Hubert Green, sitting on 142 and 3rd position scored 78 and dropped back to joint 17th. Against the odds Nicklaus put together a decent round of 72 and moved up into joint 4th place. Floyd scored 73, which included an unfortunate 6 at the 15th hole, and joined Nicklaus on 216. Tommy Horton moved up to 3rd place with 72. Ballesteros and Miller, playing in some of the worst weather of the day both went round in 73, meaning Ballesteros was still two shots clear at the top of the table going into the final day.
Anticipation surrounded Ballesteros as the final round began. Nicklaus, however, would not finish without a challenge and he made a worthy attempt at the title, playing excellent golf until the 6th hole where he lost a ball and his momentum. He had a bogey at the12th and despite scoring birdies at the 13th, 14th, 17th and 18th holes, he was home with 285. With Miller storming up the course two groups behind, it was clear this would not be enough. Floyd, playing with Nicklaus, missed his final putt at the 18th to finish on 286 and in fourth place.
The true drama of the day surrounded Miller and Ballesteros, who went three ahead after the 1st hole but immediately lost two strokes at the next, where his tee shot drifted off line. At the 6th disaster struck and like Nicklaus, he took six strokes at the par 4 hole, allowing Miller to go ahead. Miller had gone out in 33 compared to Ballesteros who was out in 38. The Spaniard had problems again at the 11th with a triple bogey seven and Miller moved five strokes clear and by the 13th he was eight ahead. It was clear now that even Nicklaus’ late challenge could not stop him. Ballesteros regained his composure however and had an eagle at the 17th. He needed a birdie at the 18th to tie for second place with Nicklaus. He played a perfect shot between two bunkers and holed his putt for a round total of 74 and finished in joint second place. Miller played the 18th flawlessly, ending with a birdie four and a round score of 66, equalling the course record. His aggregate of 279 meant he was The Open Champion, six strokes clear of the rest of the field.