Price finishes in a flurry to catch 1st British Open

July 18, 1994|By Gene Wojciechowski | Gene Wojciechowski,Los Angeles Times

TURNBERRY, Scotland -- If only Jesper Parnevik had stolen a glance. Sneaked a peek. Overheard a whisper from the gallery. Maybe then the 123rd British Open championship would belong not to Nick Price, but to Parnevik, who picked the worst time yesterday to ignore the two largest scoreboards in all of golf.

But that's what he did, and Price has the prized Claret Jug and a second major title to prove it.

"Oh, boy," said Price, whose 4-under 66 yesterday put him at 12-under for the tournament, one shot shy of the Open record set last year. "I think it was back in 1982 I had my left hand on this trophy. In 1988, I had my right hand on this trophy. Now, at last I finally got both hands on it . . . and does it feel good."

Twelve years ago at Troon, he blew a three-stroke lead in the final round and finished tied for second. At Royal Lytham in 1988, almost the same thing.

Back then, though, he was losing to the likes of Tom Watson and Seve Ballesteros. Yesterday on the Ailsa Course, he faced Parnevik, in his second British Open appearance.

"It's like a fairy tale," Price said.

This was Price's fifth victory of the year, his 15th since winning the PGA Championship in 1992. But it was the first time all season that he played a major as if he belonged. Price didn't break par in four rounds at the Masters and didn't make the cut at the recent U.S. Open.

"I can't tell you how much I've wanted this day to happen," said Price, who kept alive the streak of non-American victories in this year's majors.

Price, from Zimbabwe, finished the final three holes birdie-eagle-par while the rest of the contenders couldn't keep up.

Parnevik had stood over his second shot barely off the fairway on the 432-yard 18th hole needing only a par 4 to finish at 12-under for the tournament, good enough to stay two strokes ahead of Price, who was back on the par-5 17th.

But Parnevik had other ideas.

"I thought I needed another birdie on 18 to win," he said.

What he really needed was a look at one of the two scoreboards that flanked the 18th green. Had he done so, Parnevik would have realized what everyone else on the Ailsa Course, including the desperate Price, already knew: that a par meant safety, meant Price would have to make up two strokes in two holes to tie, three to win.

But every time Parnevik sank a birdie putt -- and he did so at 11, 12, 13, 16 and 17 -- someone in the two twosomes behind him birdied, too. Except Parnevik didn't know who was sinking the putts.

Was it Fuzzy Zoeller or Brad Faxon, the two Americans who began the day at 9-under and tied for the lead? Was it Price or Ronan Rafferty, who started at 8-under?

Not knowing the exact situation, Parnevik kept pushing.

Standing in the light rough of the 18th, Parnevik went for the pin. The ball landed short and left of the green and then settled down in the lush grass. Parnevik could put the chip no closer than 6 feet from the hole. He missed the putt for par.

Price looked at scoreboards.

He saw the five-way tie for the lead shortly after making the turn at No. 9. He knew he was flirting with a bogey, maybe worse at No. 14. And he absolutely knew he had to birdie the par-4, 410-yard 16th and at least birdie No. 17.

"I'm not one of those who say they don't look at the leader board," Price said. "You have to base a lot of your tactics and strategy on what the other guys are doing."

His eagle on No. 17 won it. On the edge of the green in 2, Price found himself on the flattest part of the putting surface. As he walked toward the ball, Price said to his caddie, "We haven't made a long putt all week."

Then he studied the line and sank the downhill, 51-foot putt.

"I couldn't believe it went in," Price said. "I just about jumped out of my skin."

BRITISH OPEN

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The winner . . . Nick Price 69-66-67-66-268 . . . and selected followers Jesper Parnevik 68-66-68-67-269 Fuzzy Zoeller 71-66-64-70-271 Nick Faldo 75-66-70-64-275 Tom Kite 71-69-66-69-275

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