SOUTHPORT, England -- Ian Baker-Finch finally got it right. Baker-Finch the player and Baker-Finch the man finally came together, performing in nearly flawless harmony, and together they won the British Open championship yesterday.
Baker-Finch had taken the old links for 6-under-par 64 Saturday and found himself in the final group in this championship for the third time in the past eight tournaments. The first was '84. He failed miserably going off tied for the lead, and cried miserably afterward. In 1990, after he also shot a 64 Saturday, he still was too far back of Nick Faldo to make a difference.
Yesterday, Faldo was not there to challenge. Masters champ Ian xTC Woosnam could not do it either. U.S. Open champ Payne Stewart was not a factor. Greg Norman made his usual Sunday salary drive, shooting a 66 early, yet he was too far back. And Seve Ballesteros, the most feared of challengers, never found the right stuff, bogeying the second and third holes, then struggling to stay on the leader board all day for a 71.
No, this was Ian Baker-Finch's day, the day he officially became one of the world's best players. He shot a 66 and reveled in the moment. The definition of tall, dark and handsome, he also is the definition of gentleman. Moved to tears by his loss in '84, he was moved to tears by his win.
"The Open championship is the most special event in my life," he said. "The Australians have grown up really wanting to win the British Open. The British Open to me is the world championship."
And he took this championship by the throat on the first nine holes yesterday. He shot a 5-under 29 on the front, and it could have been a couple of strokes lower.
He started tied with playing partner and friend Mark O'Meara at 4-under-par. The birdie rush, and O'Meara's bogey at the fourth, left him four shots up on O'Meara and three up on Eamonn Darcy. He was 9-under-par and had a five-stroke lead as he played the 10th hole.
There he made bogey, knocking a 3-wood off the tee into an awkward lie in a fairway trap. As he lined up his long putt for par at the 10th, he noticed Fred Couples had moved to 5-under on the strength of four consecutive birdies at the start of the back nine. "When I saw that Couples was 5-under, it picked me up," Baker-Finch said. "It kept me focused that I still had some golf to play."
Couples failed to make another birdie and finished with a 64 and a tie for third with O'Meara, who shot 69. Playing just ahead of Baker-Finch was another Australian, Mike Harwood, whose final-round 67 got him second place. Baker-Finch did birdie the 17th, then under the intensity of 18, he bogeyed to finish at 8-under.
At age 30, Baker-Finch has made such a long journey from the farm 60 miles from Brisbane where he was reared.
"I'm sure everyone who wins a major thinks it's the first of many," he said, touching the trophy afterward. "Now that I have my hands on this jug, I really don't care."