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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 July, 2004, 20:31 GMT 21:31 UK
Open icon: Tom Watson

Who is the greatest Open champion?

THE CONTENDERS
Tom Watson has beaten off five other Open legends to win your nomination for the greatest ever Open champion.

All week we asked you to vote on your favourite winner, and we can now reveal the five-time Open champion polled 37% with three-time champion Nick Faldo in second on 26%.

Seve Ballesteros and Jack Nicklaus - voted your Masters master back in April - shared 14%, while Gary Player and another five-time winner Peter Thomson were well back.

America's Watson ruled the Open roost in the late 1970s and early 1980s. His easy manner and affinity with the British crowds made him a popular champion.


Tom Watson
By Rob Hodgetts

Tom Watson (left) and Jack Nicklaus fought out the
Watson (left) and Nicklaus fought out the "Duel in the Sun" at Turnberry in 1977

Think of Opens of yesteryear, of blistering sun, burnished fairways and flares flapping in the wind, and you think of one man - Tom Watson.

The likeable American with a psychology degree came to golf late and, despite an approachable demeanour, developed into one of the fiercest competitors the game has seen.

A good ball-striker but an even better putter and scrambler - the "Watson par" became legendary - his game seemed to be tailor-made for the shot-making required on the links courses of the Open rotation.

And he virtually made the Open his own during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

TOM'S TALE
Born: 04/09/1949, Kansas City, Missouri
Turned pro: 1971
PGA Tour wins: 39
Open wins: 1975, 1977, 1980, 1982, 1983
Open runner-up: 1984
Other major titles: US Masters (1977, 1981); US Open (1982)

For almost 10 glorious years, Watson was the face of the Open, and his liking for the links and their tradition - and a fondness for cloth caps - saw the British golf galleries take him to their hearts.

But the "Kansas Kid" did not enjoy immediate success and was deemed a choker in the early years of his career after developing a habit of throwing away the lead, notably in the 1974 US Open.

A stint with the legendary Byron Nelson and an inner determination to take a challenge head on came to fruition with his maiden win - the Western Open in 1974.

Buoyed with new-found confidence, the 25-year-old headed to the Open at Carnoustie in 1975 and holed a 20-footer for birdie on the 72nd hole to squeeze into a play-off, which he won against Australian Jack Newton.

If Watson stunned the golf world with his victory on his Open debut, he would make the doubters eat their words with another four Open titles.

With the Masters under his belt, Watson arrived at Turnberry in 1977 unaware that he was about to win what was to become known as arguably golf's greatest ever tournament.

The "Duel in the Sun" pitted Watson against the giant of the sport, Jack Nicklaus, a man 10 years his senior and already a two-time champion and five-time runner-up.

Tom Watson
Watson won his fourth Open at Troon in 1982

But Nicklaus had been on the wrong end of Watson's charge to win the Masters' Green Jacket several months earlier, and was to rue his young foe again.

The pair were tied after three rounds at 10 under par, nine shots clear of the field.

In an absorbing final round, they matched each other shot for shot and the drama continued all the way to the 72nd hole where Watson hit a glorious seven-iron to two feet and holed the birdie putt to win, finishing 65, 65 to Nicklaus' 65, 66.

"I hit it dead flush," Watson said. "It was one of the best shots I ever hit. It's something I will never forget."

Watson won again at Muirfield in 1980, finishing four shots clear of Lee Trevino, while at Troon in 1982, Watson was the hot favourite, having just won the US Open at Peeble Beach.

He was seven shots behind Bobby Clampett after two rounds but kept his head to win by one from Zimbabwe's Nick Price and Britain's Peter Oosterhuis.

The following year at Royal Birkdale Watson won a stunning fifth Open with victory by a single shot over Andy Bean and Hale Irwin.

In the process, Watson became one of only five men - Harry Vardon, James Braid, JH Taylor and Peter Thomson are the others - to have won the Open five times or more.

And in 1984 at St Andrews, Watson went close again, finishing in a tie for second with Germany's Bernhard Langer behind the exciting young Spaniard Seve Ballesteros.

Greatest Open champion? It would be a worthy man who beat Watson to this accolade.





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