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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 July, 2004, 20:30 GMT 21:30 UK
Euro hero: Seve Ballesteros

Who is the greatest Open champion?

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.

Seve Ballesteros
By Matt Slater

With Seve, it's a case of never mind the quantity, feel the quality.

His Open return of three wins and seven top-10s might not, on face value, earn him a place at the top table, but it is the nature and impact of those victories that should see him take his place at the head of that table.

Seve Ballesteros at Royal Lytham in 1988
Born: 9 Apr, 1957, Pedrena, Spain
Turned pro: 1974
Career wins: 87
Open wins: 1979, 1984, 1988
Other major wins: 1980 Masters, 1983 Masters
Other Open achievements: Youngest player to win championship in modern era, runner-up as 19-year-old in 1976
And while the Spaniard has not mounted a serious challenge since 1991, or even made the cut since 1995, news that arthritis in his back rules him out of his third straight Open will be met with genuine sadness by his legions of British fans.

And there are legions of them. His dashing style, heart-on-sleeve reactions and brilliant shot-making prompted immediate comparisons with the original crowd pleaser, Arnold Palmer.

But European golf fans in general, and Open galleries in particular, love Ballesteros for more than his golf. We love him because he beat the Americans and breathed life back into European golf.

The first moves in his love affair with the Open were made in 1976, when a 19-year-old Ballesteros took a lead into the final day at Royal Birkdale. He would eventually finish second, but an important marker had been put down.

Three years later, after two solid performances in the intervening Opens, the 22-year-old from Pedrena became the Open's youngest winner since 1893.

The highlight of his three-stroke win over Ben Crenshaw and Jack Nicklaus was his novel approach to Royal Lytham's 16th. Having put his drive into an overspill car park beside the fairway, Ballesteros then found the green to close out the win.

Seve Ballesteros in St Andrews in 1984
Seve's celebration at St Andrews has become his company logo
The shot entered golf legend and cemented his reputation as the game's greatest escapologist.

Having won the Masters in 1980 and 1983, Ballesteros had to wait until 1984 for his second Open title. But it was worth it, as he held off Bernhard Langer and Tom Watson to win by two shots at the home of golf, St Andrews.

A third Open came in 1988, when Ballesteros returned to Royal Lytham to beat Nick Price by two shots, and Nick Faldo by six. His six-under 65 on Sunday was one of the finest final rounds in major history.

The wins dried up as the 1980s came to an end, but Ballesteros' work was largely done. He had revitalised European golf - at tour level, in the Ryder Cup and in the majors - and inspired a generation of young golfers with his swash-buckling style.

The careful management of decline was not Seve's way. But he who burns brightest, burns shortest. And Ballesteros really did burn brightest.

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