British Open Preview
Continued (page 5 of 5)
He played well in 1978, leading by two strokes until he hit into the hotel and took a double-bogey 6 on the 17th in the second round, finishing the tournament T-17. In 1984, during practice rounds, his friend Fernandez encouraged Ballesteros to take the club a bit more on the inside to counteract a tendency to let his right elbow wander too far from his body. "Chino give me a little tip on my swing," he says, "and I stick to that and each day played better and better."
He started the final round two shots behind Watson and Ian Baker-Finch, who were paired in the last group.
"Watson was the best player in the world at that moment," Ballesteros says, "and he was trying to tie the record of Harry Vardon: six British Opens. He was under a lot of pressure also. We were not close, but champions in the same category never are close. You never see both go outside for dinner. Never. That's not because it is personal. The competition carries on, not just on the golf course, but off the golf course also. It was that way for me and Watson."
In the last round, "I played very steady," Ballesteros recalls. "I didn't do anything spectacular, but I played very steady and very solid, especially on the back nine. I birdied 14, then a fantastic par on 17, where I put my 6-iron on the middle of the green from the rough on the left side. That second shot was like a tunnel, you know."
On the 18th, Ballesteros hit a conservative 3-wood off the tee and then a wedge into the green.
"The putt, breaking six inches, I hit it well," he says. "As the ball was approaching the hole, I was more and more hoping, and it dropped in. I think with my interior energy, I put it inside myself. I think so. That was the greatest moment of my career."
He has been back to the hallowed ground to play three British Opens since then, but never with so much anticipation. When Bobby Jones returned to St. Andrews for the last time in 1958, he was suffering from a crippling disease of the spinal cord. After Jones was honored during the Freedom of the City and Royal Burgh of St. Andrew ceremony, a filled auditorium began singing an old Scottish song, "Will Ye No' Come Back Again?"
"It had all the strange, wild, emotional force of the skirl of a bagpipe," wrote Herbert Warren Wind. "Hardly a word was said as the people filed from the hall, and for many minutes afterward it was impossible for anyone to speak."
When asked what he will feel when he is announced on the first tee, it is Ballesteros -- his face scrunching but his gaze steady -- who cannot speak.
He doesn't have to. It will definitely be a moment.