“With the special feeling I have here – this feeling in the blood – this could be the time when I win another major.”
The words of Severiano Ballesteros on the eve of the 1988 Open Championship, returning to Royal Lytham and St Anne’s 9 years after the swashbuckling Spaniard captured his first claret jug. Seve was in confident mood and the bookies backed him, making him a joint favourite with the current champion golfer Nick Faldo who had won the previous Open at Muirfield by parring the last 18 holes. Many in the press however now saw Seve as a fading force in the majors (he had slipped to number 4 in the Sony world rankings), this despite eight top-10 finishes in the majors since his last Open victory in 1984 at St Andrew’s. The American contingent was even less fancied and Tony Jacklin, the 1969 Open champion caused a stir stating “I can’t see beyond a European winning here this week. Why? Because the conditions will not favour the Americans”. Interestingly this opinion was backed up by Tom Watson; but Lanny Wadkins, as irrepressible as ever, replied “Tony has obviously got too patriotic” and Jack Nicklaus said merely that he would leave his “clubs to do the talking”. This was after all the year after Europe’s first Ryder Cup victory on American soil so it seemed tensions were still running high. It appeared the win had invigorated one Senor Ballesteros.
Seve teed off at 8.54am on a grey and blustery Thursday and promptly birdied the first 3 holes and then the 6th and 7th to go 5 under par. His golf was flawless in a front nine of 30 but two bogeys on the 14th via a penalty drop from a wasp’s nest and the 18th when he was forced to take a penalty for another unplayable lie led to a 67. He led after round 1 by two strokes with American qualifier Brad Faxon and Australian Wayne Grady joint second on 2 under. Only four other golfers in a field of 153 were under par including the Zimbabwean Nick Price. Among those who managed a level par round were Faldo and Bob Charles, the left-handed New Zealander, who had won the title at Lytham 25 years earlier and who was now 52.
Seve stands out in a crowd
Round 2 dawned and whilst breezy the sun shone and it was dominated by the accurate iron play and precise putting of Nick Price, witnessed by a new record crowd of 43,111 for a British Open. Price had featured in the Open at Troon in 1982 where he had thrown a three-shot lead with six to play to finally lose out to Tom Watson by 1 shot as he finished 4 over for those 6 holes. This time he was in more purposeful mood and after his second round 67 said “I learned a golden lesson at Troon and one which I hope will work in my favour this time. If, when I’m 50 and retire and haven’t won an Open, I’ll never forgive myself”. He eventually won the Open in 1994 at Turnberry aged 37.
Seve skilfully scrambled his way to a level par 71 using his remarkable short game in getting up and down from off the green for par on 17 then making an equally impressive sand save from a greenside bunker on 18. Nick Faldo and Sandy Lyle both shot 69 after impressive under-par front nines and were 2 under par and level par for the championship respectively. Tony Jacklin missed the cut but Paul Broadhurst survived it as the only amateur and as such secured the silver medal. This adding to his success at St Anne’s after earlier in the year winning the Lytham Trophy.
Seve in full flow during round 2
The forecast for day 3 was light rain overnight clearing by 6 am. However by midday half an inch of rain had fallen and four greens were completely submerged. Play was initially suspended but then abandoned at 1.45. Jack Nicklaus’ caddy was heard to say “the green at the short fifth reminded me of the seventeenth at Sawgrass. It was perched high above a lake.” As less than half the field had concluded their rounds European Tour rules dictated that all scores had to be discarded. The Americans were hit the hardest with Hubert Green having birdied 5 of the first 7; Corey Pavin birdied 3 of the first 7; Paul Azinger 3 out of 6 and Tom Watson 2 of the first 4. The R&A called in the fire brigade and a ground hog pump was commandeered from the Old Trafford cricket ground but the course remained flooded.
They had hoped to complete 36 holes on Sunday but play could not start until 11.25am on Sunday so for the first time in Open history the fourth round would be completed on a Monday. Players were sent out in three-balls and the British challenge gained a head of steam. Nick Faldo with a 68 and Sandy Lyle with the best round of the day 67 were back in the hunt. Price remained steady under pressure and his 69 gave him the outright lead at 7 under. What of Seve? He was round in 70 but his exploits on the par five 6th are worth mentioning. He played two left handed shots from a bush instead of taking a penalty drop with the green in range in two but somehow limited the damage to a bogey 6. Two birdies and ten pars followed and he finished at 5 under alongside Faldo.
The last group
On Monday the leaders Price (-7), Seve (-5) and Faldo (-5) all began their rounds slowly and the golf could be best described as lukewarm. Seve made par on the first five holes, Price and Faldo faltering with bogey fives on the 2nd. Despite recovering with two quick birdies the Englishman Faldo never really challenged again and in the end just could not get his putter hot. It was a young American Fred Couples who was lighting up the front nine racing to 5 under par after holing out with two greenside chips for birdies on the 1st and 3rd and then holing long snaking eagle putts on the par five 6th and 7th. He eventually finished with two bogeys for a 68 and a share of fourth. Sandy Lyle briefly challenged the leaders getting to 6 under with two early birdies of his own. However a short missed putt on the par three 9th seemed to knock the wind out of his sails and he crumbled, coming home in 40 strokes.
Seve and Price started their duel in earnest with a birdie 4 at the 6th, but it was on the par five 7th where the gauntlet was thrown down by Price. Price hit his second shot first, a piercing 2 iron, which bounced to within a few feet of the hole. Seve responded with a towering 5 iron which kicked left into the sheltered green and rolled up to six feet. Seve, putting first, calmly rolled it in and Price tapped in for a pair of eagles. Price now led by one at 9 under and as Faldo could only manage a par here he fell back losing two shots to his rivals. This hole was the turning point and where the tournament became a two horse race. Sinking an eighteen foot birdie putt on the 8th green the Spaniard gained another shot on the course and Price. Both recorded safe pars on the short 9th and they were tied at 9 under at the turn.
Seve tees off at the ninth
At the tricky 10th they each managed a birdie with Price sinking a gutsy 10 foot putt under pressure after watching Seve’s ball sent to the back of the hole from fifteen feet by his trusted ping anser putter. It was the Spaniard who now seemed to have the upper hand and he birdied the long par 5 11th to go one shot ahead. This shot was given straight back at the tricky 12th where a ballooned 4 iron cost Seve a bogey to Price’s 3 and they were tied again at 10 under.
Long straight drives down hole 13 yielded birdies for both men but the threes on the scorecards did not tell the whole story. Price played first to the green clipping a superb pitch to within inches for a tap-in birdie and he now seemed to have gained the momentum. Seve played his wedge shot crisply enough but it came up fourteen feet short. The match-play specialist from Pedrena was awoken and with an almost apologetic shrug and enigmatic smile he brushed the ball along the ridged green into the hole - five birdies and an eagle in seven holes! The mounted pressure from the bullish Price seemed to simply bring out the tenacious matador in Seve.
And so on to one of the most testing finishing stretches in Open golf championship history. Both were unable to chip and putt for par after missing the 14th green. The treacherous 15th was negotiated by both players in par. Price had pushed his second shot right but a fortuitous bounce from the gallery back into the apron helped him and he was down in 4. But was the pressure starting to get to him?
The 16th beckoned - the scene of Seve’s famous birdie from the car park in 1979.
Now in inspired form Seve split the fairway with a 1 iron, later commenting “It’s a pity I did not find any cars on the 16th fairway this time – unfortunately the R&A should park the cars next time on the fairway – I am becoming a very straight player now.”
His affinity for this hole was confirmed as he hit a sparkling 9 iron shot to within 6 inches and the birdie bettered Price by one shot who managed only a par. This put Ballesteros one ahead on 11 under standing on the 17th tee. Another great drive and a solid approach led to a regulation 4. Price looking nervous for the first time that week pushed his drive a long way right. A favourable free drop from unusual ground conditions near the practice ground fencing allowed him to almost reach the green in two and he too made his par.
The drive on the 18th was intimidating with the crowds lining each side of the fairway and two rows of cross bunkers inviting any errant shot. Seve drove hard at the ball and looked anxious as it soared right towards a bunker flanked by a gorse bush – it cleared the hazard by a few yards and settled in the wispy semi rough 170 yards from the flag. Price then hit a great drive splitting the fairway. Seve played first and pulled his shot left and a few yards long of the green – he had told himself at the start of the week that if in contention on the last hole he should aim left but he over did it. Price hit his second pin-high but 40 feet left. Cue the mercurial Seve – using a lofted wedge from an average lie he floated a majestic chip effortlessly over a swale onto the green. It rolled perfectly toward the hole catching the right lip and stopping stone dead. He punched the air in delight.
Seve almost holes his chip on 18 Seve and the Claret Jug
Price shook his head and then ran his ball past the hole knowing he had to hole his putt to tie Seve’s score of 11 under (he 3 putted to drop to 9 under). The claret jug was Seve’s for the third time.
"I think I played about as well as this game can be played" Seve said after his final round 65.