Player Feature
Ian Baker-Finch
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The road to Open redemption
Baker-Finch walks the fairway at The Open in 1991

When it came to The Open, Ian Baker-Finch often had to take the rough with the smooth.

The Australian’s relationship with golf’s original and most prestigious major included many peaks and troughs from the moment he made his debut at St Andrews in 1984.

He made the headlines after taking the 36, then 54-hole lead at the Old Course before a disastrous final round of 79 resulted in him finishing ninth and eight strokes off Champion Golfer Seve Ballesteros.

Another near miss followed six years later at the same venue, where he was again in contention going into Sunday before dropping down the leaderboard to sixth.

But his previous disappointments eventually paid off when he finally clinched the Claret Jug in 1991 at Royal Birkdale for his first and only major championship triumph.

And while he was never able to repeat the feat, Baker-Finch’s name will forever be etched in the Open history books. Here’s a look at his remarkable journey to Champion Golfer status.

A starry eyed kid

“In 1984 I was just a 23-year-old kid with starry eyes.”

That was how Baker-Finch later reflected on his Open debut at the Old Course in St Andrews, where he was first introduced the challenge that would come to define his career.

Ian Baker-Finch reacts to a putt during The 113th Open at St Andrews

The Queensland native secured entry into the field with his first professional tournament victory at the New Zealand Open the previous year.

And he appeared to take to The Open like a duck to water after opening rounds of 68 and 66 gave him the halfway lead ahead of the trio of Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Lee Trevino.

Five-time Champion Golfer Tom Watson then tied him for the lead going into the final round before Baker-Finch put his ball in the Swilcan Burn on the first hole on Sunday.

He never recovered from there and finished with a 79 to drop down to ninth.

Old Course strikes again

While The 113th Open is now remembered fondly for Ballesteros’ jubilant celebrations on the 18th green, Baker-Finch was only left to rue what might have been in the aftermath.

It certainly appeared to cause a crisis of confidence in the following years, finishing 20th and 30th either side of missing three cuts in his next five appearances at the Championship.

That all changed on his return to St Andrews in 1990 though, where Baker-Finch once again was in the mix from the very first round after shooting an opening four-under 68.

Ian Baker-Finch during The 113th Open on the Old Course

After a level par 72 briefly stunted his progress, he climbed the leaderboard again on Saturday with a magnificent round of 64 to rise up to joint second with Payne Stewart, five strokes behind Nick Faldo.

There was no stopping Faldo, however, who clinched the second of his three Claret Jugs by five strokes as Baker-Finch was forced to settle for joint sixth after a final-round 73.

Despite another heartbreaking near miss for Baker-Finch, he would not have to wait long before he was back contesting for the Claret Jug again – this time at Royal Birkdale.

Third time’s a charm

Baker-Finch arrived at the Southport links the following year with his eyes on the prize.

Yet back-to-back opening rounds of 71 left him off the pace after the first two days, with Gary Hallberg, Mike Harwood and Andrew Oldcorn leading the way on two under.

But that all changed in the third round. Baker-Finch set a new course record for Royal Birkdale with a stunning 64 to rise up the leaderboard and tie for the lead with Mark O’Meara.

And while he subsequently lost his course record the next day to Jodie Mudd, who became the fifth player to score a 63 at The Open, Baker-Finch’s final-round 66 sealed a four-shot win. 

Ian Baker-Finch celebrates with his family at The Open in 1991

Baker-Finch’s up-and-down relationship with The Open continued after his victory, finishing 19th and 70th the following two years before failing to make the cut ever again.

However, while he failed to kick on after his Claret Jug success, nothing can take away his moment of glory at Royal Birkdale as he finally put the years of hurt behind him and achieve his dream.

“All the times I didn’t go on and win made me stronger,” Baker-Finch said. “Today erases all those memories. Just to play in The Open is fantastic, to win it is a dream.”