x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Hunters on prowl to succeed Bear and Shark

What Turnberry lacks in historical longevity is compensated by the sheer drama it has provided for the golfing world.

TURNBERRY // The Ailsa Course on Scotland's South Ayrshire coast has been utilised only three times by the Open Championship's Royal and Ancient organisers but what Turnberry lacks in historical longevity is compensated by the sheer drama it has provided for the golfing world.

Incidentally, all three occasions had one common characteristic: The world's top player at the time, arguably or factually, won it. Never has a British Open course enjoyed such a spectacular debut as Turnberry did in 1977 when it became the venue for what has been known ever since as the "Duel in the Sun" between two of the game's legendary figures Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus. Watson, who won four of his five British Opens in Scotland, put together probably the finest 72 holes of his career to hold off by a single stroke the formidable challenge of the "Golden Bear" who would otherwise have an even greater all-time record of 19 major titles.

The two American giants matched each other shot for shot over the first three days and there was never more than a two-shot gap between them on the final day until Watson made what proved a decisive move with a birdie at the penultimate hole. That left Nicklaus needing to do the same at the last to have any chance and, remarkably, he somehow holed a 40-footer which meant Watson, who had sent in a nerveless approach shot to within three feet of the pin, had to hole his for victory. The rest, as they say, is history.

There was a similar nail-biting finish to Turnberry's most recent staging of the biggest event on the calendar in 1994. To this day Sweden's Jesper Parnevik is ruing a mathematical miscalculation as he approached the final tee. Parnevik believed he required a birdie to match the leading score of Zimbabwe's Nick Price when, in fact, a par would have earned him a play-off. The Swede boldly went for a three, walked off with a five and handed the Claret Jug to Price.

Eight years earlier, Turnberry provided the platform for Australia's Greg Norman to hit back at those who thought the former world No 1 lacked mental strength under pressure. In command from the second day after a record-equalling round of 63, the "Great White Shark" held his nerve as the pack closed in on him and a solid closing round of 69 enabled him to win by a distance of five shots. Bought last year for £55million (Dh332mn) by the Dubai-based Leisurecorp and refurbished this year for a further £40m, Turnberry is regarded as possibly the Open's most picturesque venue.

If the sun shines over the next four days, here's hoping for another memorable duel between two giants of the game. As the world No 1 Tiger Woods said: "You just can't fake it around this golf course. You just have to hit good golf shots." wjohnson@thenational.ae