Missed putt gives Nicklaus his play-off chance
Two putts from above and beyond the hole were all that stood between Doug Sanders and victory in the 1970 Open. A fine save from the Road Hole bunker at the 17th had left him needing a simple four at the final hole to edge out Jack Nicklaus by a single stroke. His flighted approach from a long tee shot ran 30 feet beyond the hole and his first attempt pulled up less than three feet short, leaving the worst possible putt to win a championship — downhill and left to right.
As he explained later: “I was over the ball when I thought I saw a spot of sand on the line. Without changing the position of my feet I bent down to pick it up, but it was a piece of brown grass. I didn’t take the time to move away and get re-organised.” The ball slipped agonisingly past the right lip and the colourful American faced an 18-hole play-off against the game’s most successful player the following day.
Ironically, as they approached the final green of the play-off, with Nicklaus one shot ahead, Sanders played an immaculate pitch and run with a four-iron to within four feet of the hole. The same shot a day earlier would have won him the title. But Nicklaus had hit a tremendous tee shot right through the back of the green at a hole which measured 358 yards.
From the tangled rough he coaxed the ball to within eight feet of the hole. Taking the left to right break the ball caught the right edge of the hole and dropped. In a spontaneous reaction Nicklaus tossed his putter high in the air, something he did only once in his glittering career. It was a clear sign of the importance he attached to winning the world’s oldest championship at the home of golf.