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Open and shut case for Jack

Champion: Nicklaus wins the 1966 Open
Champion: Nicklaus wins the 1966 Open

ON WHAT should have been the final day of this year’s Open, the R&A attempted to answer a time-honoured 19th hole debate — who would win if all the great champions of the past were pitted against each other?

‘The Open for the Ages’ gathered them virtually over 72 holes at St Andrews, concluding in a three-hour telecast using footage stitched together from their past achievements at the Old Course.

If was enjoyable enough, if only to see again the sweet swings of some of the legends. Sky’s broadcast team pulled out all the stops as well, with ‘on-course’ commentator Iona Stephen even managing to sound like she was bringing you breathless news from the links.

‘Is this the only time that Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus have looked across at their playing partner and seen their equal?’ asked Nick Dougherty.

Back came Tiger’s old coach Butch Harmon, quick as a flash: ‘Never. They just don’t think that way.’

There were jarring moments. How come everyone else was in their prime apart from poor Arnold Palmer, on his last legs? Gary Player was described as having done press-ups for ‘60 or 70 years’, despite only looking about 25.

Inevitably, it came down to Jack and Tiger, with the former one shot in front standing on the 18th tee, although the final hole proved anti-climactic rather than suspenseful.

The coverage was from their 1978 and 2000 victories respectively, when both men had victory wrapped up by the time they came to the 18th. Accordingly, their approach shots were conservative to the back of the green.

It is safe to say Tiger would not have been anything like as far away if he was one shot behind and needed a birdie.

Nicklaus got the nod, therefore, in the virtual Open. Here at the 19th hole, there is no argument from this quarter.