Ballesteros snatches victory from Watson at the 17th
The doom-laden portents of the year 1984 may have emanated in the imagination of George Orwell, but they will stay for ever in the mind of Tom Watson. With an historic sixth Open title in his grasp he misjudged his approach to the 17th green and paid a severe penalty. The line-up for the final round that year saw Ballesteros paired with Bernhard Langer two shots behind Watson and little-known Australian Ian Baker-Finch. Known by his fellow tour pros as Hyphen, he had set a blistering pace with opening rounds of 68 and 66 to go three shots clear of the field.
Watson’s third round 66 had pulled him from five behind to a share of the lead. The opening hole showed the young Australian that he was in for a tough time. After a fine tee shot he clipped a firm wedge which pitched close to the hole and screwed back into the unforgiving waters of the Swilken Burn. He did well to get down in five, but his momentum was gone and he only broke 80 by virtue of two birdies in the final four holes.
That left the big three to battle for the honours. But Langer’s putting let him down. Renowned for the accuracy of his approach play, he had five opportunities for birdies from within 10 feet in the outward nine holes, and missed them all. By the time Ballesteros reached the 17th tee he had picked up the two shots that separated him from Watson at the start of the round. He had failed to make par here in three rounds and predicted before the start of play on the final day that if he made four at the 17th he would win.
He did both. A towering six-iron from 200 yards in the left rough left him in comfortable two-putt range. In the following match Watson drove perilously close to the out-of-bounds on the right but was in perfect position to draw the ball down the curve of the green. His two-iron shot was too strong, bounded through the green and finished on the grass verge beyond the road. From there a four proved impossible. He would need a birdie at the final hole, but a huge roar from the 18th green signified that Ballesteros had holed out for three.
Watson now had to hole his second shot at the last. His high-flying wedge shot was on line, but strong, and the chance of a sixth Open title had vanished. Baker-Finch slipped back to a share of eighth place, but seven years later he claimed his moment of glory with an impressive Open victory at Royal Birkdale.