Golf / 123rd Open: Price proves the pilot of his own destiny: The perfect blockbuster finish to the Open leaves Parnevik talking about the ferocious pressure that affected him. Tim Glover reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
NICK PRICE left Scotland yesterday morning in his private jet and made a small detour to Norwich to pop in and see his mother. After congratulating her son on a job well done, her next task would probably have been to apply some spit and polish to the old silver claret jug.

Price, who was born in Durban, moved to Zimbabwe at a young age. He served two years in the Rhodesian Air Force as a technician, an occupation that did not hold out promise of him owning his own plane, before sensibly deciding, in 1977, to become a professional golfer.

In 1983, he joined the US Tour, where he has accumulated prize-money in excess of dollars 5m and where, last season, he was voted Player of the Year by his peers.

On the strength of his victory in the 123rd Open Championship over the magnificent Ailsa course on Sunday, he would probably win the European vote as well.

Price, runner-up in the Open to Tom Watson in 1982 and to Seve Ballesteros in 1988, enjoyed the rub of the green in the final round at Turnberry.

When he lost to Watson 12 years ago he blew the lead, but here he was in the perfect position to attack.

Unlike Jesper Parnevik, who had got to 12 under for the championship only to bogey the last hole with a weak approach shot, Price read the leaderboard and made his move over the back nine. He went to the turn in a level-par 35 (two bogeys, both the result of three-putting, two birdies) but knew he was still in the competition when he holed a 15-footer for a birdie at the 12th. That put him at nine under and he got another birdie at the 16th with a putt from a similar distance.

The 17th, a par five of 498 yards, obviously represented an opportunity to make up further ground and this is where the craftsman engraving the name of the winner on to the claret jug began to eradicate a J and insert an N. Price hit a driver and a four iron about 50 feet past the flag and made the putt for an eagle three. A par at the last was sufficient for him to equal Watson's winning total at Turnberry of 268 in 1977.

'My heartbeat was up to about 250 when I made that putt on 17 and it did not slow down until I made the putt on 18,' Price said. During the Masters at Augusta in April, Price revealed that, because of a heart condition, he was prescribed beta-blockers. He needed them on Sunday.

Parnevik, whose father Bo is Sweden's answer to Mike Yarwood, gave an impersonation of a man kicking himself from here to eternity after botching the 18th. 'The pressure is tremendous,' Parnevik said. 'Nick is more used to it.' That was the key and Price, playing behind the Swede, also had a strategic edge.

There was nothing Parnevik, who had never been in contention in a major championship before, could do about Price's finish. 'I could not wish to play the last three holes better than I did,' Price said. 'To finish birdie- eagle-par is quite something. The thing that worried me most is that If I didn't win how many more opportunites was I going to have?'

The 37-year-old Price, whose only other major triumph was in the US PGA Championship two years ago, thinks he will be good for another six years. 'Guys are playing in their 40s but that is when you lose your edge on the greens.'

In this context, he mentioned Tom Watson but it was unnecessary. The canny backers had made Price the 11- 4 favourite going into the final round. The head said Price but the hearts were with the 44-year-old Watson and what happened to the five- times Open champion was heartbreaking, for himself and his thousands of supporters who were almost reduced to wearing black armbands.

Having taken the lead with a birdie on the seventh, he had double-bogey sixes on the eighth and ninth, taking three putts at both.

Watching Watson standing over a short putt is like watching Roberto Baggio taking a penalty, the only difference being that with the American the anticipation of agony is far greater.

Watson had 38 putts on Sunday. 'That really says it all,' he said. 'It hurts . . . hurts inside.'

(Photograph omitted)

Comments