Sports

US Open countdown: Tom Watson rides miraculous birdie chip in ’82, beats Jack Nicklaus again

82nd U.S. Open | June 17-20, 1982

Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, Calif.

Leaderboard

Tom Watson, United States 72 - 72 - 68 - 70 282
Jack Nicklaus, United States 74 - 70 - 71 - 69 284
Bill Rogers, United States 70 - 73 - 69 - 74 286
Dan Pohl, United States 72 - 74 - 70 - 70 286
Bobby Clampett, United States 71 - 73 - 72 - 70 286

In his early 40s, Jack Nicklaus was still making noise at major championships, even adding to his record haul.

But when it came down to one-on-one duels with Tom Watson, Nicklaus was finishing second.

It happened at the 1977 Masters, where Watson broke a tie with a 20-foot birdie putt on the 71st hole. It happened months later at The British Open at Turnberry, where Watson set the tournament scoring record — with the “Golden Bear” right on his heels.

And it happened at Pebble Beach in the most dramatic fashion — a chip-in birdie at the 17th hole during the final round.

Nicklaus had sort of plodded around the tournament for three days, not really in contention. But in a flash during the fourth round, he birdied five consecutive holes — Nos. 3-7 — to join the championship fray with Watson and Bill Rogers.

And after Nicklaus birdied the 15th hole three groups ahead and Watson made a bogey at No. 12, the two stars were once again tied.

Nicklaus finished his round of 3-under-par 69, and watched Watson tee off at Pebble’s famous par-3 17th. And where Watson’s 2-iron tee shot landed — in the highest, thickest grass between two sand bunkers just behind the green — Nicklaus, for sure, thought his counterpart would bogey the hole.

Why? With no green with which to work, even if Watson struck a delicate chip shot, it would surely run 30 feet past the hole.

But in one of the most famous exchanges in U.S. Open history, Watson told his caddie, Bruce Edwards, he was going to hole the 16-foot chip shot.

And he did.

After he did, he trotted around the green, and pointed to Edwards.

“The best shot of my life,” Watson told reporters afterward.

With that, Nicklaus’ championship hopes were relegated to an 18th runner-up finish at a major championship.

It would be Watson’s lone U.S. Open title. A month later, he captured his fourth career British Open crown at Royal Troon, becoming just the fifth player to win both major open titles in the same year, joining Bobby Jones (1926, 1930), Gene Sarazen (1932), Ben Hogan (1953) and Lee Trevino (1971). Tiger Woods would later accomplish that feat in 2000.

todd.milles@thenewstribune.com

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