Our Great Final Days series has looked back on several of the finest denouements in The Open’s illustrious history.
Yet while the Championships of 1988, 1994, 2009, 2016, 2022 and many others produced high drama as they reached their endpoint, one Open stands alone in terms of its closing chapter and the impact it had on golf.
This is the story of 1977 and the epic battle between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus, the subject of DUEL, a new 47-minute film from R&A Films, in partnership with Rolex, which interweaves rich archive footage with contemporary animated scenes to put a new spin on a classic story.
Prior to the final day of The 106th Open, there had been nothing to separate Watson, the Champion Golfer of 1975, and Nicklaus – at that point a 14-time major winner.
The two Americans carded the same scores in each of the first three rounds and separated themselves from the field in the process, cards of 68, 70 and 65 lifting them three ahead of Ben Crenshaw and at least six strokes above anyone else.
What followed on Saturday 9 July has gone down in history as a contest like no other, an iconic duel between two of golf’s greatest played out in front of an enraptured and at times almost frenzied crowd.
Watson had held off his rival to win the Masters at Augusta three months earlier, but it was Nicklaus who quickly hit the front on this occasion and the Golden Bear had a three-shot cushion after pouring in a lengthy birdie putt on the fourth.
“Well, what a killer blow,” said commentator Peter Alliss. “Poor Watson must wonder what else is in store for him.”
Remarkably, though, Watson was back level within just four holes, birdies at the fifth, seventh and eighth showing he was very much up for the fight.
By this point, it was clear no other player was even remotely in contention and the atmosphere at Turnberry was electric as huge numbers of spectators followed the final pairing.
Watson was again left with work to do as his bogey at the ninth was followed by a birdie from Nicklaus at the 12th.
Once more, though, the Kansas City native dug deep to get back on level terms, halving his deficit on the 13th before an incredible putt from off the green at 15 moved him alongside Nicklaus at 10-under.
Three holes remained for these two golfing titans, but there could only be one Champion.
The decisive moment ultimately came at the par-5 17th. Watson found the green in two and made birdie, but there were stunned gasps from the gallery as Nicklaus missed a short putt and had to settle for a par.
For the first time and at just the right time, Watson had his nose in front, but this battle was by no means over.
The events of the final hole have been replayed through the ages, to the extent that countless fans who were not even born in 1977 are aware of every single detail.
The wild drive from Nicklaus. Tom’s incredible approach. Jack’s outrageous recovery to make three. These moments are among the sport’s most memorable.
Yet after Nicklaus had graciously called for silence from an enraptured crowd and Watson had converted a winning putt of no more than two feet, it was the immediate aftermath of the Duel in the Sun that perhaps provided the most lasting legacy.
The runner-up immediately offered a magnanimous handshake to the Champion, before Nicklaus and Watson left the 18th green as one, their arms draped over each other’s shoulders.
A fittingly classy end to an unforgettable contest.
DUEL is available exclusively to members of The One Club, a free-to-join community which brings golf fans closer to The Open, and is the latest offering from R&A Films, in partnership with Rolex, following on from 'SEVE. Artist. Fighter. Legend' and our highly regarded 'Chronicles of a Champion Golfer' series. Why not watch the entire back catalogue on TheOpen.com/video.