Commentary

Excitement never lacking at Turnberry

Originally Published: July 12, 2009
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

TURNBERRY, Scotland -- The youngest and least-used venue in the current Open Championship rotation might also be the most scenic.

The Ailsa course at the Turnberry Resort located along the west coast of Scotland is in a remote area about 90 minutes south of Glasgow but has terrific views of the sea.

[+] EnlargeGreg Norman
David Cannon/Getty ImagesGreg Norman knows his way around Turnberry, having won the British Open on the Ailsa course back in 1986.

"I think it's probably, on a pretty sunny day, the most spectacular looking of all the links courses, with all those holes down by the water," said Nick Price, who won at Turnberry in 1994. "It's a very special place. I really enjoyed it there.

"The golf course is always going to yield itself to low scores, but it's always been extremely exciting, which is a good thing. They might have remedied that this year by making it longer."

Indeed, the knock on Turnberry is its susceptibility to low numbers. Tom Watson went 65-65 over the final 36 holes in 1977. In 1986, Greg Norman shot a major-championship-tying 63 during the second round, although the weather conditions were dicey and the golf course was set up to be much more difficult.

Price shot all four rounds in the 60s, including a closing 66, during his 1994 victory.

Unlike the sunny, dry conditions of '77 -- when Norman played his first Open Championship and missed the cut -- Turnberry offered cold, wet, windy conditions the first day in '86, with only Ian Woosnam matching par 70.

The following day, conditions were a bit better, and Norman took advantage, shooting a 63 that included a three-putt bogey at the last hole. Norman was gunning for a 61, and a two-putt would have yielded what would still stand as the lowest score in major championship history.

"I was disappointed in my finish that day, to tell you the truth," Norman, now 54, said recently. "That was an opportunity. I actually thought when I hit the 17th green. … I actually was thinking 59 was a possibility. 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. Just want to dominate the golf course. That's exactly what I did."

Best Ball Challenge

Norman led by 2 strokes heading into the third round, which produced another difficult day that saw only one player break par. At one point, Norman had a 5-stroke lead, but five bogeys on the back nine left him with just a 1-stroke advantage over Tommy Nakajima heading into the final round.

However, Nakajima doubled the first hole of the final round, and Norman's 69 was good for a 5-stroke win over Gordon J. Brand, giving "The Shark" his first major title during a year in which he led all four major championships after three rounds.

Eight years later, Norman was unable to recapture the same magic at Turnberry, but Watson did for a time at the '94 Open, taking a 1-shot lead after a second-round 65 during a year of low scoring. Through three rounds, Fuzzy Zoeller and Brad Faxon were the leaders, with Watson, Ronan Rafferty, Price and Jesper Parnevik a shot back.

It came down to Price and Parnevik, who infamously failed to look at the scoreboard and thought he needed a birdie at the 18th hole when a par would have put him in a playoff. Parnevik bogeyed, while Price had gone birdie-eagle behind him at the 16th and 17th holes.

"My finish was one of the strongest I've put on in any tournament, let alone the Open Championship," said Price, who won six times in 1994 and was the No. 1 player in the world. "I finished birdie-eagle-par. I won that championship. Everyone says Jesper lost it, but I won it. I posted the score.

"For me, that was one of the things I was most proud of is the way I finished that day. Everyone talks about the eagle I made on 17, but the birdie I made on 16. … If I hadn't made that birdie, then that eagle wouldn't have counted for much. It was a great way to finish. Very, very special."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com