Jack Nicklaus, 32, won his third Open Championship with a score of 290 at the Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, California. Only Willie Anderson, Bob Jones, and Ben Hogan won as many; each won four. Nicklaus either led or was tied for the lead throughout and finished three strokes ahead of Bruce Crampton of Australia. Arnold Palmer was third with 294 while Lee Trevino, the defending Champion, tied for fourth with Homero Blancas at 295.
The winning score was the highest since 1963 when Julius Boros, Jacky Cupit, and Arnold Palmer scored 293 to tie for first place. Boros won the eventual playoff. Pebble Beach was not only the most scenic course ever host to the Open, but also was as stern a test of golfing skill as the Open has presented. As testimony to its difficulty, only 48 of the 150 starters scored lower than 80 on both the first two days, and only 40 rounds of par 72 or lower were played by the 70 contestants who finished 72 holes.
Low score the first day was 71 with six players tied for the lead, the most every to tie for the lead after the first round and the most ever to tie for the lead after any round since 1896, the second year of the Open. They were Nicklaus, Orville Moody, 1969 Champion, Juan Rodriguez, Mason Rudolph, Tom Shaw and Kermit Zarley, Jr.
Scoring improved the second day with 15 players shooting par or better. Lanny Wadkins and Arnold Palmer both scored 68, low for the Championship. Wadkins moved into a tie for first place at 144 while Palmer was seventh with 145. Six players were again tied for the lead: Nicklaus, Homero Blancas, Bruce Crampton, Cesar Sanudo, Wadkins and Zarley.
On the third day Pebble Beach continued to plague the field when only 13 players were able to match or better par. Nicklaus with a 72 ended the day in sole possession of first place with a 216 total - even par. Bruce Crampton and Kermit Zarley shared second place with Lee Trevino at 217. Trevino had been hospitalized with a slight case of bronchial pneumonia the week preceding the Open, but he was still the only player in the field to improve on his scores in the first three rounds.
The third day was highlighted by Jerry McGee's hole-in-one on the par-3, 180-yeard 5th hole - the first scored in an Open since 1956. To thoroughly upset the rules of probability, Bobby Mitchell holed his tee shot on the same hole the next day.
The last day was sunny but windy - not a day for low scoring. In fact, there were only two final-day scores of par or better: a 70 by Mason Rudolph and a 72 by Jim Simons, one of the three amateurs to play the entire 72 holes. The final round could hardly have been more dramatic: Trevino was grouped with Nicklaus, whom he had beaten in a playoff for the 19971 title. The anticipated duel did not develop, however.
Trevino finally succumbed to physical ills and could not keep up. Nicklaus was apparently in full command of the Championship after nine holds and had increased his lead to four strokes with Trevino, Crampton and Arnold Palmer his closest pursuers. The 10th and 12th holes nearly changed the complexion of the Championship. On the 10th Nicklaus was blown off balance by a sudden gust of wind as he drove. His drive soared over a cliff and onto the beach below. Nicklaus elected to take a one-stroke penalty and dropped outside the hazard. He then hit a 2-iron, but the ball landed short and to the right of the green on the steep bank of the cliff and again in the lateral water hazard. He was able to play the ball as it lay, however, and got on with a wedge and two-putted for a 6. His lead was cut from four strokes to two.
Nicklaus parred the 11th then came to the 12th. Palmer, two holes ahead of him, had made a par-3 at the 12th and was only one stroke behind on the scoreboard. On the 555-yard, par-5 14th Palmer had an eight-foot putt for a birdie. Meantime, on the 12th, Nicklaus hit a 3-iron shot over the green into a terrible lie. He needed two more shots to reach the green, eight feet away from a bogey-e.
The Open Championship finally hinged on the play of two shots by Palmer and Nicklaus. If palmer made his and Nicklaus missed, Palmer would be ahead...If they both sank, they would be tied. Palmer's putt eased by the edge and Nicklaus holed his to retain the lead. Palmer then bogied the 15th and 16th holes to end his challenge. Nicklaus parred 13 and 14, birdied 15, parred 16, and then hit the flagstick on the par 3, 218-yard 17th hole with a 1-iron shot that left him only a six-inch putt for a birdie. Four strokes ahead of Bruce Crampton, Nicklaus played the 18th hole cautiously, three-putting for a bogey 6.
There were 4,196 acceptable entries filed for the 1972 Open, of which 1,661 were from amateurs, more than in any previous year. Fourteen of them made it into the Championship proper, after local and sectional qualifying rounds, and three finished 72 holes. Prize money totaled $202,400, with $194,600 going to professionals in the Championship proper and $7,800 in Sectional Qualifying Championships.
Starts - 44
Best Finish - Winner 1962, '67, '72, & '80
Rds - 160
Cuts Made - 35
Top 3 - 9
Top 5 - 11
Top 10 - 18
Top 25 - 22
Avg. - 72.59
Scores In 60s - 29
Rds Under Par - 37
Earnings - $372,245.05