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Jack Nicklaus and the Duel in the Sun

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Jack Nicklaus
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The origins of the Game remain contentious.

Be it the ‘Honest Toun’ of Musselburgh, the ‘Sunshine’ Port o’ Leith, or elsewhere.

What’s less in doubt, are the circumstances surrounding the finest spectacle yet witnessed, to decide the Champion Golfer of the Year.

This took place during the inaugural hosting of the British Open Golf Championships at Turnberry in Ayrshire, back in the summer of 1977. As the Tournament reached its midway point the scene was set for a showdown of epic proportion. Jack Nicklaus; a two-time Open Champion and perennial collector of Major Titles, was paired with Tom Watson, the  reigning US Master, and Open Champion at Carnoustie in 1975.

A storm-delayed Third Round upset the mere mortals, and served only to galvanise the concentration of our main protagonists. Nicklaus took the overall lead early in Round 3, and held a two-shot advantage over Watson by the Ninth. The Young American remained unperturbed – rallying with a superb Birdie on the 15th, to restore parity. A missed opportunity by Nicklaus on 17, ensured they would approach the Final Round in a Tie for the Lead.

Glorious Sunshine enveloped the Course as the Joint Leaders embarked on their Final Round. Nicklaus and Watson had carded identical scores over the opening three rounds of the Championship; 68-70-65, and conjecture reverberated among the sea of spectators, as to its final outcome. Once again Nicklaus started the brighter, edging ahead with a Birdie at the second. And after Four Holes, his lead had stretched to three. Given the aura that surrounded a player of his stature, many would have succumbed. Watson (cut from similar cloth), remained calm. Birdies on 5, 7, & 8, drew him level, before an uncharacteristic mistake on 9 presented Jack with a one-shot advantage.

Around this time; the US Open Champion Hubert Green was holing-out on 18, registering a one-under Par Total of 279. Outwith Nicklaus and Watson, his, would be the only other Sub-Par Four-Round Total recorded on Turnberry’s testing Links.

A Birdie on 12 doubled Nicklaus’ lead. Watson’s response was immediate – reducing the deficit to one, on the very next Hole. The pendulum swung further in Tom’s favour with a clinical putt on 15, and a repeat on the penultimate Hole, took him ahead of Jack for the very first time.

One-up with One to play, Watson delivered the perfect tee-shot.

In Contrast Jack’s Drive nestled in the Rough.

When Watson complimented his tee-shot with a sublime 7-Iron approach (to inches), it seemed all over.

Befitting the Champion he is, Jack engineered an unsurpassed up-and-down, to force Watson to Hole- out for victory. The 1977 Open Champion carded a Final Round 65, to record a Four-Round Championship Record Total of 268, – 12 Under Par.

The ‘Duel-in The-Sun’ is part of Sporting Folklore, and is best summed up by Jack Nicklaus’ dignified quote at the Award Ceremony that followed – “I gave you my Best Shot… You were Better, Well Played”. Timeless words of wisdom for participants of all ages across all disciplines.

We hope you enjoyed this article ‘Jack Nicklaus and the Duel in the Sun’. Do you have fond memories of golf from the 70s or 80s? Let us know!

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Born in 1963, Peter attended St Mary's Leith High School. Peter worked within the plumbing industry before studying a degree in journalism within the University of Stirling. Peter has been a lifelong sports fan and has volunteered within the Edinburgh Soccer School's programme on numerous occasions.

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