It took gale force winds, a flood and an extra day, but when the 117th British Open was finally over, Seve Ballesteros of Spain had done what he set out to do at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club. Beneath dismal skies on England's northwest coast, he had become the British Open champion for the third time. And in the process, he played with a brilliance that restored him to his rightful place as the game's best player.
Ballesteros's 11-under-par 67-71-70-65-273 beat Nick Price by two shots and gave him his fifth major championship, but it was his first since he won the 1984 British Open at St. Andrews. This was perhaps the sweetest of all, because Ballesteros won with the most controlled, mature golf of his career.
During his record-tying final round on Monday, Ballesteros missed only three fairways and three greens. He added explosiveness to consistency with a six-hole, six-under-par run that left Nick Faldo and Sandy Lyle in his wake and set up a classic mano a mano match with Price, the third-round leader. Ballesteros pulled ahead for good at the par-4 16th when he hit a nine-iron shot to within three inches of the hole. He tapped in for his birdie. Then on the 18th he struck a magical chip from the greenside rough, which lipped the hole.
Maybe Ballesteros will now feel free of the pressure he has exerted on himself. At 31, he was beginning to hear whispers that perhaps he was too temperamental, too wild off the tee and too reliant on short-game genius to win any more of golf's biggest prizes. "I was starting to wonder," said a joyful Ballesteros after his victory. "You know, that my time was, you know...." His voice trailed off, the thought too painful to complete.
Ballesteros needed last week's win before he could admit how deeply his confidence had been shaken by his loss at the 1986 Masters. In the final round there, he was leading by a stroke when he hit a four-iron into the water on the 15th hole. He lost the lead and, ultimately, the tournament to Jack Nicklaus. "Now that shot will be way back in my mind," he said on Monday. "Instead, from now on I will remember how I played today."
So will everyone else, including Price, who closed with a 69. "There's nothing better than playing the standard of golf we played today in a major championship," said Price, whose only serious error of the day was a missed four-footer for par on the 14th.
In the final round, Ballesteros and Price lapped the field, particularly the Americans. The Open was the latest skirmish in the battle for golf supremacy between Europe, with its burgeoning rank and file and such leading lights as Ballesteros, Faldo and Lyle, and the more numerous, less charismatic and allegedly spoiled U.S. pros of the PGA Tour. The Europeans were definitely on the offensive last week, riding the momentum of two consecutive Ryder Cup victories, Lyle's win at the Masters in April and defending British Open champion Faldo's near completion of a transatlantic double at the U.S. Open last month. Although 47 Americans played in the British Open, the favorites weren't Yanks.
"I can't see beyond a European win, and I can't see an American winning," said Tony Jacklin, the captain of Europe's Ryder Cup team, early in the week. "I don't think they're as good as we are now." The tabloids loved the sniping—WE'LL TANK THE YANKS sang London's
—but the European pros thought Jacklin's words went a bit over the top. "Rather a sweeping statement, isn't it?" said Faldo.
Said Tom Watson, the last American to win the Open, in 1983, "Much as I hate to admit it, there's merit to what Tony says."
But most of the American pros took quiet exception to Jacklin's remarks. "I'm going to let my scoring and my clubs do my talking," said U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange. He finished 12 shots back in 13th place; only four Americans did better, the best being Fred Couples and Gary Koch, at 281, tied for fourth. Lanny Wadkins wasn't about to be outbrashed, however. "Obviously, those two Ryder Cups went to Tony's head," he said. "What he said is totally absurd."