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Watch the Birdies
Rick Reilly
July 29, 1991
Ian Baker-Finch got off to a flying start in the final round and easily won the British Open
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July 29, 1991

Watch The Birdies

Ian Baker-Finch got off to a flying start in the final round and easily won the British Open

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As for those still standing, all 112 of them looked as if they were conspiring to split the pot. Nobody broke away, least of all the Big Three: Greg Norman (finished tied for ninth). Ian Woosnam (tied for 17th) and defending champion Nick Faldo (also tied for 17th), who complained that a camera click ruined his Friday round. Then again, Faldo could hear a camera click in Glasgow. It hasn't been his year. In May he nearly cut his thumb off slicing ice cream, and in the same week his house just outside London was burglarized while his family was in it. Johnny Miller says he's too bulked up, and he hasn't been within a fax call of the Sunday leaders in a major this year.

On Saturday, Baker-Finch and Mark O'Meara, neighbors in Orlando, Fla., finished at four under, good enough for a one-stroke lead and the final pairing Sunday—that was, if O'Meara could get up Sunday. Only an amalgamation of Advil, Nuprin, Excedrin, sleeping on the floor, ice and hope had kept his ailing back and swollen rib cartilage from sending him home. He was hurting so badly after his 71 on Thursday, he had tears in his eyes.

"I like my guy," Baker-Finch's caddie, Pete Bender, said Saturday night. "I'm telling you, this guy can putt like nobody I've seen. From eight feet in, I put this guy against anybody." Bender should know. He used to caddie for Norman.

And Bender was right. The man they call the Sparrow (Finch, get it?) left himself a 13-foot putt for birdie on the 2nd hole on Sunday. He made it. Ten feet on the 3rd hole. Made it. Seven feet on the 4th. Made it. Six feet on the 6th. Made it. Fifteen feet on the 7th. Made it. His putter was hotter than a charcoal starter. Suddenly, he had a five-shot lead. "He just blew the tournament open," Harwood said afterward.

There were only four guys left Sunday who had even the skimpiest chance of making Ian Baker flinch. One was Eamonn (pronounced Amen) Darcy. The only dour Irishman in existence got to within three shots of Baker-Finch at the 13th hole, but he and his fly-away-elbow swing bogeyed the 14th and double-bogeyed the 15th and disappeared. From now on, those holes should be known as Eamonn's Corner. Two was Harwood, who birdied 16 to get within two shots but could not birdie the easiest par 5 in Britain, the downwind 17th, thus letting Baker-Finch off the hook. Harwood finished second. Three was O'Meara, who didn't make many birdies but was at least able to walk. Walk, that is, until the traditional Trampling of the Golfers occurred at 18, at which time he got knocked over by the surging spectators and was in such pain he could barely finish the hole. His 69 left him tied for third, which was worth �55,000 ($90,750), enough to keep him in Tylenol for, what, three weeks?

Four, of course, was Baker-Finch himself, who knew well the art of stuffing: "I thought to myself, Don't stuff it now. Imagine what it's going to be like if you mess up from nine under."

Thanks to the fact that Birkdale is lakeless, and thanks to Bender, he didn't. Bender walked in front of Baker-Finch, pacing him, rubbed his mental shoulders and kept him aiming at pins. At the crucial 16th, Baker-Finch hit a seven-iron right at the cloth and, as it was falling, said to Bender, "Do you like that one, Peter?" Bender said he loved it. It produced another par, and the two-shot lead held.

All that was left was the obligatory two-putt birdie at 17 and a 20-foot putt on 18, which Baker-Finch could have three-putted and still won. Men on horseback can three-putt from 20 feet. Now that's when you know it's your day to win the British Open, and he did—with a four-under 66.

"I think the pain of losing those Opens was the start of winning here," he said afterward. "Today erases those memories."

Keep your eye on the Sparrow.

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