After the first two rounds of the 1977 British Open, the tournament was all about them.
Jack Nicklaus…one of the greatest finishers ever and Tom Watson with an image as a “collapser” had both shot identical rounds of 68 and 70. Watson had given away the 1974 US OPEN and lost leads at the MASTERS and the 75 OPEN. Nicklaus had grown into one of the most popular golfers on the planet almost equaling his rival Arnold Palmer. One thing was certain, Nicklaus was the number one golfer in the world, and Watson was nipping at his heels. But still the overriding question was could Watson take the heat?
In the third round Watson played like nobody else except well…mister Nicklaus. Watson shot a 65 as did Nicklaus. The other players melted away, leaving the spotlight all on The Golden Bear and Huck Finn. The scene was set for a thriller of a final day; a day filled with drama…excitement and some amazing golf. Nicklaus quickly grabbed the lead with two birdies, but Watson countered back with a couple of birdies of his own. Then Nicklaus nailed a 25 footer to take back the lead and momentum.
But not for long.
On the 15th hole Watson rolled in a amazing putt from 60 feet to tie for the lead. At this point Watson turned to Nicklaus and said, “This is what it’s all about, isn’t it?” Nicklaus smiled and said, “You bet it is.”
On the 17th Watson took over the lead for the very first time with a birdie while Nicklaus missed a slippery 4 footer. Down by one with one hole to play, Nicklaus pulled out the big dog on the 18th hole and went for it. Unfortunately his tee shot found some extremely heavy rough. Watson ripped a one-iron right down the middle and then followed that shot with a seven iron that stopped a few feet from the hole. He had the tournament in the bag right?
You see Nicklaus had other ideas; he thrashed at the rough producing a shot that landed some 40 feet from the pin. With Watson watching intently Nicklaus rolled in the putt which sent rolling cheers through the crowd and almost caused a riot. Watson had to make his two-and-a-half footer to win the tournament. Staring down a putt that seemed to grow longer by the second, Watson pounded the ball right in the middle of the cup to win by one.
Nicklaus threw his arm around his conqueror as the crowd roared, having witnessed a demonstration of sportsmanship and some amazing golf shots that thirty three years later most golf fans still remember.