Johnny Miller back at Birkdale
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.
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.