Nicklaus and Watson’s “Duel in the Sun” at Turnberry
For the first time The Open was played at Turnberry. Hot sunny weather had removed most of the problematic course rough and this weather would come to characterise the competition. Severiano Ballesteros, the defending Champion Johnny Miller and Gaylord Burrows opened on day one with scores of 69. Nicklaus sank a 25-foot putt on the 18th green for a score of 68 and shared third position with Lee Trevino and Tom Watson. Scoring was consistently low — the young British player Martin Foster went round in 67 and American John Schroeder scored an excellent 66, putting him in first position.
There was similar low scoring in the second round with thirteen rounds under par. A record low score was set by American Mark Hayes whose excellent putting produced a round of 63, which brought his aggregate score to 139, two shots off the pace. Hubert Green scored 66 to move up to joint second position on 138. Nicklaus and Watson both went round in 70 to tie with Green, Watson and Lee Trevino on 138. American Roger Maltbie added a score of 66 to his first round of 71 and moved one shot into the lead on 137. Ballesteros was still in the running on 140, tied for eighth place.
The third day saw almost perfect playing conditions. Ben Crenshaw had a 66 for a total of 206 and moved into third place. Burrows scored 68 for joint fourth position with Tommy Horton and second round leader Maltbie. A sudden lightening storm during his round left Trevino shaken and he scored 72. Miller had a steady 67 to join him in seventh place.
Nicklaus and Watson, however, provided the true excitement of the day. Playing together, they matched each other birdie for birdie and finished on a formidable 65 each, sharing the lead three shots ahead of Crenshaw. Through the first three days, they had posted the identical round scores of 68, 70 and 65 and the stage was set for a memorable final day. The crowds were not disappointed.
The final day of the 1977 Open would go down in history as the ‘duel in the sun’ between the two golfing giants, Nicklaus and Watson. No other golfer would present a challenge and they dominated the day. Nicklaus went two ahead at the second with a birdie while Watson dropped a shot and was three ahead after another birdie at the 4th. Watson fought back with birdies at the 5th and 7th to pull within a stroke. He tied Nicklaus at the 8th but promptly dropped a shot at the 9th. Nicklaus sank a 25 foot putt for a birdie at the 12th to go up by two strokes.
Watson then decided it was all or nothing and played excellent golf to come to within a shot of Nicklaus at the 13th. He still trailed the Golden Bear by a stroke when they finished the 14th. At the 15th, Watson holed a magnificent 60 foot putt from off the green to pull even with Nicklaus and the excitement levels reached fever pitch, with the crowd threatening to obscure the golfer’s views.
At the par 5 17th hole the two were still equal but Nicklaus’ second shot was short of the green. He put his chip shot to within four feet of the hole but his putt just went past the left hand side of the hole and Nicklaus had to settle for a par. Meanwhile Watson was on the green in two with a chance for an eagle but settled for a birdie to go ahead for the first time by one shot. With nothing to lose, Nicklaus pulled out his driver at the 18th tee but he sliced his shot and had a bad lie under a gorse bush whereas Watson hit a one iron down the middle and followed this with a seven iron to within three feet of the hole.
Nicklaus reached the green from the gorse and holed a rollercoaster forty foot putt for a birdie. Suddenly, Watson’s short putt seemed a lot longer. However, he made no mistake and smoothly put the ball into the middle of the hole. He finished with a score of 65 and an aggregate of 268. He was The Open Champion by one shot from Nicklaus and was eleven strokes ahead of third place Hubert Green. This was Watson’s second Open title and his aggregate of 268 was a record, beating the previous best by eight strokes.