Baker-Finch banishes final day blues to win The Open at Royal Birkdale
On the 56th birthday of 1991 Champion Golfer of the Year Ian Baker-Finch, we revisit his famous win at Royal Birkdale.
Ian Baker-Finch was not among the most fancied contenders when The 120th Open was played at Royal Birkdale in 1991 but the amiable Australian surpassed many of his more storied rivals to come through and win golf’s most prestigious Championship. Baker-Finch lifted the Claret Jug in 1991 after two near misses when he came so very close to success on the final day.
Those sore painful moments acted as a spur, however, and Baker –Finch went on to enjoy a memorable triumph on the Lancashire links. Equalling five-time Champion Golfer of the Year Tom Watson’s 1977 record at Turnberry for the lowest second 36 holes in Open history, Baker-Finch tasted his only Major championship success.
“The Open Championship is the most special event of the year in golf,” Baker-Finch commented at the time.
“Just to play in it is a thrill, and to win it is a dream. I was in a dream world when I was presented with that famous Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale.”
Baker-Finch grew up in the same neighbourhood in Nambour, Queensland, as fellow professional golfer Wayne Grady and two-time Champion Golfer of the Year Greg Norman. He joined the professional ranks in 1979 on the PGA Tour of Australasia winning his maiden event, the New Zealand Open, in 1983.
His name first came to the fore at The Open in 1984 at St Andrews when he fell away on the final day. Finding himself in the lead after the third round, Baker-Finch’s final round of 79 saw him slip down the leaderboard, finishing in ninth place and ending his chances of winning the Championship.
He came close again in 1990 playing alongside third round leader and eventual Champion Nick Faldo, again at St Andrews. Baker-Finch, five shots behind the Englishman, could only post a one-over-par 73 to finish 11-under-par and seven shots off the pace.
“In 1984, I was just a kid with starry eyes having a great time. The Open Championship was the start to my career. People got to know my name. Despite what happened, I couldn’t wait to get back.
“Last year, I was a bigger kid and learned a lot from the guy who won, Nick Faldo. I have improved since then and I have a lot to thank Nick for… just watching him go on and win and the way he went about it.”
Faldo’s presence appeared to have a lasting effect on Baker-Finch when he returned to compete in The Open the following year at Royal Birkdale in 1991. After a wonderful third round six-under-par 64 the Australian led the Championship alongside Mark O’Meara at four-under-par.
Once again, Baker-Finch was going into the final day of The Open in real contention to lift the Claret Jug. Would he complete the job this time?
Not only did he keep his cool, he got to the turn of the final round in an incredible 29 strokes - five-under-par . With O’Meara dropping out of the race, fellow Australian Mike Harwood came closest to catching Baker-Finch on his way to Claret Jug glory.
Harwood shot an impressive 67 as he pursued Baker-Finch. But with an excellent final round 66, for an eight-under-par total of 272 for the Championship, Baker-Finch became Champion Golfer of the Year. “There were other Sunday afternoons when I had chances to win and did not make it, and the memories of those times made me stronger and more determined to achieve it,” said Baker-Finch.
“I am sure everyone who wins a Major Championship thinks it’s going to be the first of many, and I certainly hope so. “
Sadly, Baker-Finch would never win another Major and struggled to replicate his success at Royal Birkdale but the popular Australian carved his place in history when he lifted the Claret Jug that afternoon and remains a member of that illustrious club of golfers able to refer to themselves as a former Champion Golfer of the Year.