NICK PRICE won the 123rd Open Championship yesterday with the ultimate putt on the penultimate hole. It was outrageous in fortune and length, about 50 feet, and when the ball caught the right lip at the 17th and jumped in, Price, in his own words, almost jumped out of his skin. Back in the recorder's hut, Jesper Parnevik was trying, unsuccessfully, to disguise the tears.
Price knew the feeling. He was runner-up to Tom Watson in the Open in 1982 and again to Seve Ballesteros in 1988 and, yes, he was aware of the six-year cycle. The Open was truly open for most of the day and at one point five players, Price, Fuzzy Zoeller, Parnevik and the Irishmen David Feherty and Ronan Rafferty were tied for the lead at eight under par for the championship.
Parnevik, a Swede who joined the US Tour this year, made his move with birdies at the 11th, 12th and 13th to get to 11 under, and he was aware that he led the field by two strokes. It should have been a comfortable cushion but Parnevik, who won the Scottish Open last year, paid a massive price for inexperience. Price, on the other hand, had been here before. 'I had my left hand on this trophy in 1982 and my right hand in 1988,' he said. 'Now I've got both hands on it and it's a wonderful feeling.'
Parnevik missed the green at the short 15th to go back to 10 under, birdied the 16th and 17th to get to 12 under and bogeyed the 18th. He did not look at the leaderboard over the closing holes and thought he needed to birdie the last. 'I was trying to get to 13 under,' he said. 'That was the figure I had in mind. Maybe I should have had a glimpse at the scoreboard when I was on the 18th . . . maybe I should have played a smarter shot.'
Parnevik, after fatal indecision, finally elected to hit a wedge into the 18th following his drive, and came up short. A chip and two putts left him with a bogey five and at 11 under he was still the leader in the clubhouse. Parnevik had started the day one stroke off the lead and was playing directly in front of Price. Price, whose only previous major triumph was in the US PGA Championship two years ago, hit the green of the par-five 17th in two but was a long way from the flag.
When the putt went in he went from 10 under to 12 under and Price knew that he only (it's a big only with the Open Championship at stake) had to make a par four at the 18th to win by one. 'I couldn't have wished to play the last three holes better than I did,' Price said. 'To finish birdie, eagle, par is very strong. I really needed to make that putt on the 17th. I looked at the leaderboards regularly. You have to understand what's going on.'
Parnevik was playing with Watson, and when they arrived on the 18th green the applause for the five-times Open champion was heartwarming. Watson had the lead at the seventh and then had successive double-bogey sixes missing greens, missing chips and missing putts. In the space of two holes the 44-year-old Watson had lost any chance of winning the Open.
The people who were following him out on the course could barely watch and it was not just because redundant betting slips were littering the links. Watson, who shot 74 to Price's 66, would have noticed that the Zimbabwean's aggregate of 268 had a familiar ring. Watson posted it here when he won in 1977.
Nick Faldo, who is accustomed to enjoying lunch before playing in the final round of the Open, did not even have time for elevenses yesterday. He was out at 10.30am, 10 strokes adrift of the lead and when he came in with a 64 his name reappeared on the leaderboard. On the 17th he was thinking about a record 62 but when he realised that that consolatory consolation prize was beyond reach he rewarded his fan club. He tossed a banana skin to a group of spectators who identified themselves with the banner: 'Faldo's loyal fans, Daventry.'
Faldo admitted that he probably had the best of the conditions in that he played almost every hole downwind. This was the result of an 'amazing experience' on the 12th. 'The wind changed direction as the ball was in flight and I've never known that before,' Faldo said. 'The wind changed 180 degrees. I would be surprised if somebody shot 62.'
He had what he described as a mixed-bag week: disaster, comeback, frustration and finally satisfaction . . . of sorts. Faldo will never be satisfied until he wins the Open so often he takes permanent custody of the claret jug.
'I will keep battling on,' he said. 'I have never been bored with this game not for one single moment. I've been frustrated but never bored.' The good news for the Faldo fan club, which saw its hero slip on a banana skin by hitting the wrong ball in the first round, is that he plans to be around for a long time.
'It is something in your blood. You have to hit it one more time just in case you get it right. You can't imagine Arnold Palmer calling it a day. He'll probably keel over on the golf course. It's nice to know that I can tee it up at Augusta until the day I die.'
Faldo was asked what he would have done had he not played golf. 'I'd either have been a deckchair attendant on the M6 or a window cleaner on the Falls Road,' he said. Faldo did not think of this himself, but then he's got other things on his mind.
John Daly, who had led briefly on Friday, also had plenty to reflect on after a round of 80 left him in last place. He came to grief at the par-four 16th, when his ball went into Wilson's Burn twice and he took eight at the hole. Daly finished the round quadruple bogey, bogey, bogey.
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