1977 British Open: Watson Bests Nicklaus in 'The Duel in the Sun'

Jack Nicklaus (left) of the USA and Tom Watson (right) of the USA walk together at the 1977 British Open
Jack Nicklaus (left) and Tom Watson put a show for the ages at the 1977 British Open, but Watson came out on top. Brian Morgan/Getty Images

The 1977 British Open - the first played at Turnberry - is one of the most famous in Open Championship history, so famous that books have been written about it. For example, Mike Corcoran's Duel in the Sun (buy on Amazon).

Why is the 1977 British Open considered so special? Well, consider the leaderboard: Eight of the top nine players eventually became members of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Names like Watson, Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Ben Crenshaw, Hubert Green, Raymond Floyd, Johnny Miller - even Arnold Palmer showed up on the leaderboard, very late in his career.

All those great names were in the Top 9.

This tourney features links to the past, too. Seventy-year-old Sir Henry Cotton, a 3-time champ, played, as did 4-time winner Bobby Locke. Locke withdrew after a poor first round; Cotton finished last among those who completed two rounds; but 5-time champ Peter Thomson finished 13th.

And there were looks ahead to the future. Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros were just getting started in their pro careers; Norman missed the cut, Faldo finished tied for last among those making the cut, and Seve finished 15th.

But the 1977 British Open was really all about Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus, who finished 10 strokes ahead of everyone else. Their final two rounds, paired together, are what "Duel in the Sun" refers to - the epic battle between two giants the took place over the final two rounds at Turnberry.

How epic? Nicklaus played the third and fourth rounds in 65-66.

But Watson played them in 65-65 to beat Jack by a stroke. The two matched each other stroke for stroke until the very last hole of the tournament. Nicklaus was ahead by two after the 12th hole, but Watson reeled him in with the help of a 60-foot birdie putt from off the green on the 15th hole. Watson took a one-stroke lead with a birdie to Nicklaus' par on the 17th.

On the final hole, Nicklaus sprayed his drive to the left, where it came to rest under the gorse. Watson played an iron off the tee right down the middle, then played a short iron to three feet from the cup.

From the gorse, Nicklaus pulled off a miraculous approach, reaching the edge of the green but 40 feet away. "I think we've got him now," Watson's caddie said to Watson. "No, I have a feeling he's going to make this," Watson replied. And Nicklaus' snaking, undulating 40-footer for birdie dropped into the cup.

In his later years on the PGA Tour, Watson was plagued constantly by the yips. But in 1977, he was a fearless putter, and there was no doubt the 3-footer he had left was going to be made. Make it he did. The "Duel in the Sun" was over, and Tom Watson was the 1977 British Open winner.

1977 British Open Scores

Results from the 1977 British Open played on the Ailsa Course at Turnberry in South Ayrshire, Scotland (a-amateur):

Tom Watson68-70-65-65--268$17,000
Jack Nicklaus68-70-65-66--269$13,600
Hubert Green72-66-74-67--279$10,200
Lee Trevino68-70-72-70--280$8,500
George Burns III70-70-72-69--281$7,225
Ben Crenshaw71-69-66-75--281$7,225
Arnold Palmer73-73-67-69--282$6,375
Raymond Floyd70-73-68-72--283$5,950
Tommy Horton70-74-65-75--284$4,887
Mark Hayes76-63-72-73--284$4,887
John Schroeder66-74-73-71--284$4,887
Johnny Miller69-74-67-74--284$4,887
Peter Thomson74-72-67-73--286$3,740
Howard Clark72-68-72-74--286$3,740
Bobby Cole72-71-71-73--287$2,295
Seve Ballesteros69-71-73-74--287$2,295
Peter Butler71-68-75-73--287$2,295
Bob Shearer72-69-72-74--287$2,295
Graham Marsh73-69-71-74--287$2,295
Guy Hunt73-71-71-72--287$2,295
Jerry Pate74-70-70-73--287$2,295
Gary Player71-74-74-69--288$1,168
John Fourie74-69-70-75--288$1,168
Tom Weiskopf74-71-71-72--288$1,168
Peter Dawson74-68-73-73--288$1,168
Gaylord Burrows69-72-68-80--289$762
Norio Suzuki74-71-69-75--289$762
Rik Massengale73-71-74-71--289$762
Roger Maltbie71-66-72-80--289$762
Angel Gallardo78-65-72-74--289$762
Martin Foster67-74-75-73--289$762
John O'Leary74-73-68-74--289$762
David Ingram73-74-70-72--289$762
Eamonn Darcy74-71-74-71--290$646
Ken Brown74-73-71-72--290$646
Baldovino Dassu72-74-72-73--291$586
Brian Barnes79-69-69-74--291$586
John Morgan72-71-71-77--291$586
Min Nan Hsieh72-73-73-73--291$586
Manuel Pinero74-75-71-71--291$586
David Vaughan71-74-73-74--292$527
Neil Coles74-74-71-73--292$527
Bob Charles73-72-70-78--293$487
Jaime Gonzalez78-72-71-72--293$487
Tony Jacklin72-70-74-77--293$487
Stewart Ginn75-72-72-75--294$463
Hale Irwin70-71-73-80--294$463
Brian Huggett72-77-72-74--295$439
Vicente Fernandez75-73-73-74--295$439
Michael King73-75-72-75--295$439
Roberto De Vicenzo76-71-70-78--295$439
Rodger Davis77-70-70-79--296$425
Brian Waites78-70-69-79--296$425
Christy O'Connor Jr.75-73-71-77--296$425
Jim Farmer72-74-72-78--296$425
Vincent Tshabalala71-73-72-81--297$425
Maurice Bembridge76-69-75-77--297$425
Hsu Chi San70-70-77-81--298$425
Ian Mosey75-73-73-77--298$425
David Jones73-74-73-78--298$425
Gary Jacobsen74-73-70-81--298$425
Nick Faldo71-76-74-78--299$425
Vince Baker77-70-73-79--299$425
Isao Aoki76-72-74 
Simon Owen73-74-75 
Des Smyth78-72-72 
Darrell Welch77-71-74 
David Graham72-76-75 
Jeff Hawkes79-70-74 
Manuel Calero77-71-76 
Antonio Garrido77-73-74 
Greg Norman78-72-74 
Eddie Polland72-75-77 
Ian Stanley70-76-78 
Sam Torrance77-72-75 
Philippe Toussaint76-71-77 
Simon Hobday75-75-75 
Pip Elson77-73-76 
Christy O'Connor Sr.75-75-76 
Ronnie Shade75-72-79 
Hugh Baiocchi77-73-77 
Garry Cullen73-76-78 
Deray Simon78-71-78 
Doug McClelland76-71-81 
Delio Lovato75-75-81 
Mark James75-73-85 
Manuel Ballesteros80-71 
John Bland72-79 
Peter Cowen76-75 
Bernard Gallacher75-76 
John McMahon75-76 
Willie Milne78-73 
Ken Norton77-74 
Arnold O'Connor74-77 
Craig Defoy78-74 
Richard Emery75-77 
Bill Lockie75-77 
John McTear73-79 
a-Pat Garner75-78 
Liam Higgins77-76 
Warren Humphreys79-74 
Tom Linskey77-76 
Mark Lye79-74 
a-Peter McEvoy78-75 
a-John Powell76-77 
David J. Russell78-75 
Peter Berry78-76 
Roger Calvin79-75 
Andrew Chandler75-79 
John Garner75-79 
Malcolm Gregson81-73 
Nick Job80-74 
George McKay75-79 
Lionel Platts77-77 
Norman Wood76-78 
Roberto Bernardini82-73 
a-David Carrick78-77 
Alex Caygill78-77 
David Dunk76-79 
Roger Fidler75-80 
Kirk Goss77-78 
a-Sandy Lyle75-80 
Jack Newton75-80 
Salvador Balbuena82-74 
a-Arthur Pierse78-78 
a-Peter Wilson77-79 
Harry Bannerman77-80 
Priscillo Diniz81-77 
Hugh Jackson79-79 
Mel Hughes80-79 
James Seeley82-77 
Alan Thompson82-77 
Peter Tupling74-85 
Johnny Johnson84-76 
Jim Bartak82-79 
a-Gordon Cosh78-83 
Dave Cullen84-77 
David Huish80-81 
Andries Oosthuizen81-80 
Geoff Tickell79-82 
Harry Ashby83-79 
P.A. Sierocinski83-79 
a-Roger Chapman86-79 
Lawrence Donovan86-82 
Nick Lumb85-84 
Henry Cotton93-82 
Buddy Gardner80-WD 
Bobby Locke84 WD 

Return to British Open Winners index for more tournament recaps