Baker-Finch tipping Leishman for a big British Open

Marc Leishman, of Australia, hits from a bunker.
Marc Leishman, of Australia, hits from a bunker. Chris Carlson

IAN Baker-Finch has tipped noted wind player Marc Leishman to finish as top Aussie at the British Open, which has stirred rich memories of his own success on the Royal Birkdale fairways 26 years ago.

The special vibe when walking by the replica of the Claret Jug that is proudly displayed at his home in Florida is never greater than this one week of the year for the golfer who was tagged the "Dark Shark" in his prime.

Baker-Finch, now 56, still has the game because he reeled off five birdies on Monday in his fine two-under-par 68 at the revered Chicago Golf Club with a friend from the commentating world, which has been his accomplished second life in golf for the past 20 years.

He doubts that door would have opened but for four perfect days in 1991 on the Lancashire links when his 64-66 weekend to close out his major triumph was exceptional.

"That Open win really has made my life because I'm always 'Ian Baker-Finch ... you're a British Open champion'," the Queenslander said in humble tones.

"I can say now I definitely stuffed up before (in majors) but that gave me the understanding I could do it and not just be a good Australian player happy to compete in a British Open.


Australia's Adam Scott plays his second shot to the fifth hole on day three of the Scottish Open.
Australia's Adam Scott plays his second shot to the fifth hole on day three of the Scottish Open. Mark Runnacles

"I did feel I needed to convert."

Just as fading in the final Sunday group at the 1984 and 1990 British Opens toughened Baker-Finch for his big moment, Leishman's play-off miss at the 2015 Open at St Andrews and the 2013 Masters finale, playing with victor Adam Scott, have added steel to the burly Victorian.

"Scotty will definitely get the benefits coming off links golf at the Scottish Open and Jason gears up for every major, but of all the Aussies I feel Marc Leishman is the best chance," Baker-Finch said.

"He handles the wind well as a Warrnambool boy because it showed when St Andrews was blowing in 2015, his shot shape suits Royal Birkdale, he had a strong start to the US Open last month and all is good in his world at the moment."


Jason Day, of Australia, lines up a putt.
Jason Day, of Australia, lines up a putt. Phelan M. Ebenhack

Eleven Aussies will tee up from Thursday when Day will play with 2015 champion Zach Johnson (10.04pm AEST), Scott will go off with Rickie Fowler (10.26pm), Leishman will play beside leftie Phil Mickelson (12.10am Friday) and first-time Open starter Cam Smith will be among the early starters at 9.20pm.

Winds of up to 33km per hour are tipped plus the obligatory rain, sunny spells and cloud cover over the four days. In other words, a normal British Open.

Leishman might not yet feel this way after three top 10s in majors himself but Baker-Finch felt that little twist of extra pressure to finally produce for Aussie fans.

Baker-Finch had five birdies and a five-shot lead by the seventh hole after a sizzling start to the final round in 1991.

"I clearly remember thinking 'boy, I don't want to stuff it up from here or they won't let me back in the country this time'," Baker-Finch said with a laugh.

Aussies have a strong history at Royal Birkdale where Peter Thomson excelled with two (1954 and 1965) of his five Open successes and Greg Norman (2008) led in the final round during his last serious shot at a major at 53.

Topics:  adam scott british open ian baker-finch jason day marc leishman

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