Johnny Miller back at Birk­dale

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - SPORTS - BY DOUG FER­GU­SON

SOUTH­PORT, ENG­LAND — Johnny Miller set the course record, even more im­pres­sive be­cause it was the fi­nal round of a ma­jor cham­pi­onship. It also was the low­est fi­nal round ever recorded by the cham­pion.

And he hardly ever talks about it un­less some­one asks him.

No, this wasn’t his fa­mous 63 in the fi­nal round at Oak­mont to win the 1973 U.S. Open.

It was no less spe­cial. Two shots be­hind go­ing into the fi­nal round at Royal Birk­dale in the 1976 Bri­tish Open, Miller put on an­other ex­hi­bi­tion with his irons, pulled away with an ea­gle and birdies on the back nine and closed with a 66 for a six-shot vic­tory and his sec­ond ma­jor cham­pi­onship.

Why is it so over- looked?

For starters, his 63 at Oak­mont for 44 years was the low­est clos­ing round by a ma­jor cham­pion un­til Hen­rik Sten­son matched it last year at Royal Troon. And even though Miller was at the peak of his pow­ers — that Bri­tish Open was his 16th vic­tory in three years — this was as much about the fu­ture.

The teenager he was chas­ing down in the fi­nal round was 19-year-old Seve Balles­teros, the Spa­niard with a bold game and mag­i­cal touch around the greens. Balles­teros hit the most mem­o­rable shot of that Open, chip­ping out of the rough be­tween two pot bunkers on the fi­nal hole for a birdie.

“The thing so great about Birk­dale was not just win­ning, but the re­la­tion­ship I built with Seve af­ter that,” Miller said. “It seemed like ev­ery­where I went over- seas, they paired me with Seve. We had a pretty darn close re­la­tion­ship. I had his re­spect, and he had mine. The whole week was re­ally spe­cial.”

Jack Nick­laus also tied for sec­ond, one of 19 run­ner-up fin­ishes in the ma­jors, though he never se­ri­ously chal­lenged. This was about the hand­some young Spa­niard who slashed away with his driver, found the ball, and ripped it again.

“I was pay­ing at­ten­tion to him be­cause he was a good-look­ing guy and had that big old swing — big, full back­swing — and slashed at it,” Miller said.

[AP PHOTO]

Johnny Miller, shown here af­ter win­ning the 1976 Bri­tish Open at Roayl Birk­dale, is re­turn­ing to the course as NBC’s lead an­a­lyst for the 2017 Bri­tish Open.

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