The 107th Open | 1978 St Andrews

Simon Owen almost pulls off huge upset

Surprise contenders are commonplace at The Open, but in 1978 the Championship almost witnessed one of its greatest-ever shocks.

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Thousands of people flocked to St Andrews for the final day of The 107th Open, expecting another showdown between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson to follow their legendary Duel in the Sun 12 months before.

They certainly got what they wished for, an epic battle for the Claret Jug at the Home of Golf - only it was not Watson that Nicklaus was battling.

There were many players in the mix on the final day, from future Masters winner Ben Crenshaw all the way to a young Englishman named Nick Faldo.

But Nicklaus' biggest challenge came from a virtually unknown New Zealander, who had missed the cut at every previous Open he had played.

Simon Owen still thinks about the day he almost won The Open and perhaps the best run of holes of his career.

He woke up for the final round just one shot off the lead following a sensational third day. For Owen, the pressure was completely off - he had made it all the way to the end of The Open for the first time on his fourth attempt and anything extra was a bonus.

He shot a magnificent 67 in his third round, good enough to reach four under and sit one adrift of co-leaders Watson and Peter Oosterhuis.

Owen was expected to fade away and he dropped two shots on the first eight holes to seemingly fall out of contention. But then he came roaring back and set St Andrews alight.

By the 14th hole, he had made four birdies and when he spectacularly chipped in for another on the 15th, the unheralded Kiwi held an unexpected one-shot lead, with his playing partner Nicklaus in second place.

There was a crackle in the crowd, a sense that something special was happening and the gallery was packed at the 16th green - everyone waiting to see David try and topple Goliath.

After a meaty drive with adrenaline coursing through his veins, Owen selected a sand-iron for his approach and connected sweetly - too sweetly. It was bang on line but went a yard too far, running through the green and stopping on a trickly downslope.

Owen later said it felt like one of the best shots he had ever hit. In reality, it was one of the most costly.

He eventually made bogey, while Nicklaus - who had had his own scare on the hole when his drive so nearly landed in a bunker - responded like champions do by sinking his birdie putt.

Owen suddenly trailed by one and that became two when he dropped another shot on the fiendishly difficult 17th. They both made par on the last, with Nicklaus winning by two shots from Owen, Crenshaw, Raymond Floyd and Tom Kite.

"If you've choked on a shot, that hurts," Owen later said as he reflected on his fabulous challenge for Open glory. "You can carry that sort of thing around as baggage for years, but there wasn't one shot in that last nine holes of golf that I choked on. I hit every shot just about exactly how I wanted.

"It's a long time ago but it was an exciting week - I had a chance to win The Open. I didn't quite do it but I gave it a good shot. I played as good as I could on the last day, I've got no regrets about it, that's for sure."