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My Fair Lytham

It's important to know where trouble lurks at Royal Lytham because you face quite a few blind shots through the green. I don't think anyone is going to play all four rounds without hitting a bunker, as Tiger Woods did at St. Andrews last year. On the Old Course, long hitters can take the bunkers out of play by flying over them. You can't do that at Royal Lytham because the fairways are not nearly as wide, and the bunkers are too well positioned and in some cases too numerous. The sixteenth hole, for example, is guarded by fourteen bunkers, while the seventeenth hole is defended by twenty-one.

History suggests that you have to be exceptionally creative in your shot making to win at Royal Lytham. The most famous case in point is the 175-yard mashie shot Bobby Jones hit from a waste area (today a fairway bunker) to the seventeenth green that enabled him to make a two-putt par and stave off a challenge by Al Watrous in 1926. (A brass plaque still marks the spot.) In 1974 Gary Player had to hit a shot left-handed with his putter after his approach to the eighteenth sailed over the green and came to rest next to the clubhouse wall. In 1979 Seve Ballesteros pushed his tee shot on the short par-four sixteenth hole into a temporary car park in the right rough and, after taking a drop, knocked a sand wedge to twenty feet and made the birdie putt that sealed the win.

In 1996 I began the final day with a six-shot lead over Nick Faldo after shooting a course record sixty-four in the third round. Just three months earlier, Faldo had been trailing by six shots going into the final round of the Masters, only to overtake a faltering Greg Norman and win his third Green Jacket. The media was making a big deal about the fact that Faldo was now in that same position at Royal Lytham, and that I had never won a major despite contending at the '94 Masters and the '95 and '96 U.S. Opens. I remember telling everybody that lightning wasn't going to strike twice, and that it was my tournament to win or lose. I also remember saying, "Nick Faldo walks with his head held high. He walks as if he is going to kick your butt."

Faldo and I were paired together in the last group; for most of the front nine, the gallery was cheering enthusiastically for him. On the third hole, a 457-yard par four, I pulled my tee shot to the left, and some of the people in the crowd called for my ball to land in a bunker, which it did. I had to hit my second shot sideways to get back in the fairway and ended up making a bogey. Faldo picked up another shot with a birdie at the fourth, but he missed short birdie putts on the fifth, sixth and seventh, which seemed to take the wind out of his sails. Then Ernie Els mounted a charge with a two-under par thirty-three on the front nine and four birdies on the first six holes of the back nine.

By the time I reached the par-four fifteenth hole, my lead had dwindled to a single stroke. That's when I had to get creative. After hitting a decent drive, I pulled my six-iron approach into the left greenside bunker. My ball settled close to the back lip, and I had to stand with one foot in the sand and one foot on the grassy slope. Fortunately, I managed to blast out to six feet and save par. I saw on the scoreboard that Els had bogeyed the sixteenth and that my lead was back up to three shots.

"Wow!" That was the first thing that popped out of my mouth when they handed me the claret jug later that afternoon. Although I was a thirty-seven-year-old PGA Tour veteran, I still felt like the kid from Minnesota who had spent years struggling on mini-tours overseas and in the United States, rattling around in a beat-up old Volvo, taking a shower in a rainstorm when I couldn't afford a motel room. All the emotions that had built up inside me seemed to pour out at once when I addressed the crowd around the clubhouse: "I may not swing the prettiest or look the prettiest, and I may do some things kind of funny," I said, "but I have a lot of heart."


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