Player Feature
Johnny Miller
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Miller and his Claret Jug journey
Johnny Miller
Johnny Miller bade farewell to his career in the commentary booth at the Phoenix Open, working on his final broadcast after almost 30 years as lead analyst for NBC Sports.

The golfing legend became renowned for not mincing his words in his post-playing career, often delivering brutally honest appraisals of what he witnessed on the course.

His straightforward approach was praised by the likes of Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler, with the latter thanking Miller for inspiring him to improve his game.

But before making a name for himself in the world of broadcasting, the 1976 Champion Golfer of the Year was widely regarded as one of the greatest players to ever grace the game.

And following American’s decision to hang up his headset, it seems the perfect time to look back on the impact he had on The Open – and specifically Royal Birkdale – over the years.

Birkdale breakthrough

Miller joined the PGA Tour in 1969 aged 22 and won his first tour event two years later in 1971 – the same year he made his Open debut at Royal Birkdale.

He finished in a tie for 47th with rounds of 72, 76, 70 and 79 in Southport, before turning on the style the following year at Muirfield as he finish in the top 20.

While Lee Trevino maintained his grip on the Claret Jug by defending his title in East Lothian, Miller made his mark by scoring a double eagle on the fifth hole during his second round.

 

Miller was an entertainer at heart and his aggressive approach – embracing the thought of trying to birdie every hole – eventually paid off at the US Open in 1973.

He found himself six shots behind the co-leaders at Oakmont going into the final round but he shot a stunning eight-under 63 to clinch his first major title.

It was the lowest round to win a major championship until it was tied by Henrik Stenson at The Open in 2016 and saw Miller pass Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Trevino and Palmer to win.

Crowned Champion Golfer

Miller followed up his victory at Oakmont by finishing in a tie for second at his next major – The Open at Royal Troon, where he was only bettered by Tom Weiskopf.

It seemed only a matter of time before he would lift the Claret Jug and a top-10 result at Royal Lytham & St Annes, as well as a third-place finish at Carnoustie only furthered his case.

Fittingly, it was at Royal Birkdale – the course where he had made his Open debut five years earlier – where Miller finally claimed the crown of Champion Golfer in 1976.

With the course scorched by the summer heatwave, Miller started steadily with a level-par 72 before shooting up to second with a four-under 68.

A pair of 69s kept Seve Ballesteros two shots ahead at the midway stage, while Miller still trailed the Spaniard by the same margin going into the final round.

Johnny Miller commentary

But a brilliant 66 on Sunday saw Miller rise to the top of the leaderboard, eventually finishing six strokes clear of Nicklaus and 19-year-old Ballesteros.

“It was actually a course record at the time,” said Miller on his final round. “And in both of my majors, if you were going to win them, that was a pretty good way to win them.”

Fitting finale in Southport

Miller never quite reached the same heights at The Open – although he mounted a valiant defence of his title at Turnberry before finishing ninth.

His victory at Royal Birkdale in 1976 proved to be his last major triumph as the World Golf Hall of Famer finished his career with 25 PGA Tour wins and 105 top-10 finishes.

A joint runner-up finish behind Tom Watson at the 1981 Masters – his third second-place finish at Augusta National – was the closest he came to another major title.

At The Open, he remained a consistent presence on the leaderboard throughout the 80s without challenging for the Claret Jug, often making the cut and finishing in the top 50th.

He began his broadcasting career with NBC Sports in 1990 after semi-retiring before making his final appearance at The Open at the place where it all started – Royal Birkdale.

Miller took to the course which had yielded his only Open victory in 1991 and despite failing to make the cut, it felt only right that his Claret Jug journey came full circle.