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Turnberry ready to test the best
By Mark Garrod, Press Association Sport Golf Correspondent Last updated: 4th July 2009
Turnberry is about to stage its fourth Open Championship - and history says you can expect the cream to rise to the top.
Turnberry is about to stage only its fourth Open Championship - and if the previous three are indicators then you can expect the cream to rise to the top.
The magnificent setting, where Padraig Harrington will be trying to become the first player since Australian Peter Thomson in 1956 to win three years in a row, brought out the best in the best when the course made its Open debut in 1977.
The "Duel in the Sun" between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus will go down as one of the greatest major championships ever and, even though the world rankings had not been introduced back then, it was a shoot-out to determine the finest player of the day.
Watson's 65-65 finish enabled him to beat Nicklaus (65-66) by one with a total of 268 that smashed the previous lowest in major history by three and the previous best in the Open by eight. Hubert Green was 10 shots further back in third.
"That was my watershed year," says Watson, now 59 and entered for what will be his penultimate Open.
"When I won at Turnberry I really felt as if I belonged and could play with the big boys. Winning the majors was my dream - that's why I practised harder than anyone and tried to develop a game that would work under pressure. And it finally started to work.
"I played some of my best golf ever at Turnberry. I was playing at my peak and it was really a springboard to the rest of my career."
Nine years later Greg Norman finally ended his major drought when he beat Yorkshire's Gordon J Brand by five. Less than two months later he became world number one for the first time.
Norman, who led with a round to play in all four majors that season and won only the Open, had a golden chance on the Friday to shoot what would have remained the only 62 ever in majors - but three-putted the final green for 63.
"I actually was thinking 59 was a possibility," said the 54-year-old Australian, even more excited about returning, of course, after his third-place finish at Birkdale last summer.
"As you go around in a situation like that, you really are oblivious to your score. You're just playing well and going after it.
"You just want to dominate the golf course and that's exactly what I did."
Nick Price had to wait less than a month to achieve the world number one spot after triumphing in 1994.
Second to Watson at nearby Troon in 1982 and to Seve Ballesteros at Lytham six years later, another runners-up finish was on the cards until Jesper Parnevik, three clear on the final tee but unaware of his position, bogeyed while Price birdied the 16th, sank a 50-foot eagle putt on the 17th and then got the closing par he needed.
"Absolute relief" was the immediate reaction of Price, not playing this year because he prefers to spend summertime with his family and also to see a young player given a chance.
"Having come close twice and to finally break through and win is hard to put into words."
Price equalled Watson's score, but the major record had been lowered by one by Norman at Sandwich the previous year - and is now in the hands of American David Toms for his 15-under 265 at the 2001 US PGA Championship.
The lengthening of 12 holes, most notably the new-look 16th and long 17th, should limit the number of low scores on the par-70 lay-out this time.
Three over par was good enough at Birkdale last year for Harrington to win by four from Ian Poulter at the end of a week when the wind hardly let up for a moment.
Going for the first hat-trick in 53 years should hold no fears for the Dubliner. His successful defence last July was the first by a European since James Braid in 1906 and three weeks later he became the first to win the US PGA Championship since Tommy Armour in 1930.
Tiger Woods was in the field when Harrington won at Carnoustie, but not last summer following his knee surgery and the American's first visit to Turnberry will see him try for a fourth Open and 15th major, only three short of Nicklaus' record.
Rory McIlroy, top amateur in the event two years ago, now tackles it as a professional for the first time and is sure of huge support so close to home across the Irish Sea.
If a pairing of Harrington and Woods - winners of the last four Opens - is the dream draw for the opening two rounds then McIlroy and Greg Norman, 20 and 54 respectively, would be a close second.