The Open Championship - Famous Moments
The Open - Famous Moments from Golf's Most Prestigious Major
The Open is the oldest of golf’s four major championships and it has provided a wonderful array of iconic moments over the years. It was first held all the way back in 1860, when Queen Victoria was on the throne, Charles Dickens published Great Expectations and the Opium Wars were raging on. Since then it has developed into one of the most important events in the global sporting calendar. It never fails to provide drama and these are the top 10 most famous moments in its long and storied history:
Bobby Dazzles – Royal Liverpool, 1930
Bobby Jones remained an amateur throughout an extraordinary career that saw him seize 13 major triumphs. Yet he still found a way to get paid for his endeavours. At the beginning of 1930, the American placed a $1,200 bet with British bookmakers, stating that he could become the first player to clinch a Grand Slam. The Masters and the PGA Championship had not been inaugurated in 1930, so the four majors of the year were The Open, the US Open, the British Amateur Championship and the U.S. Amateur Championship.
The closest he had ever previously come was in 1926, when he landed The Open and the US Open, but fell short in the other two. The bookmakers felt confident enough to give him odds of 50/1, expecting to make some easy money. Yet Jones rose to the challenge in sensational fashion, securing all four titles, and his triumph at The Open was the best of the lot. He trailed Archie Compston by one shot heading into the final round, but he displayed nerves of steel to seal a narrow victory. The highlight was a brilliant bunker shot on the 16th, which left him just inches from the hole and helped him see off the challenge of fellow American Leo Diegel.
Jones earned a $60,000 profit thanks to his wager and he goes down in history as the only man to ever win a golfing Grand Slam. Tiger Woods came the closest, landing four majors in a row spread over two seasons, but Jones is the only man to ever win all four within a single calendar year. It was referred to as The Impregnable Quadrilateral at the time and the New York post called it the most triumphant journey that any man ever travelled in sport.
Hogan’s Heroics – Carnoustie, 1953
Ben Hogan suffered a double fracture of the pelvis, a broken collarbone, a left ankle fracture, a chipped rib and near-fatal blood clots when he crashed into a Greyhound bus on a fog-shrouded bridge in 1949. He was lucky to survive, but he feared his golfing days were over. Yet Hogan completed a long road to recovery and by 1953 he was firing on all cylinders once again.
That year he completed the Hogan Slam, winning five of the six tournaments he entered, including three majors. He was unable to enter the PGA Championship that year, as it overlapped with The Open, and that meant he could not match Jones’ Grand Slam. But he was in such sensational form that he would probably have won the PGA Championship too.
It was his first ever appearance at The Open and he shot a course record 68 on the final day to secure a four-stroke victory. He never made the long trip over the Atlantic to compete in The Open again, but he clearly made a lasting impression at Carnoustie after finding the narrow left side of the split fairway on the 6th hole in each of his four rounds. To this day, it is still known as Hogan’s Alley.
Trevino Chips in for Glory – Muirfield, 1972
Lee Trevino was bidding for a second consecutive Open Championship title when he took a one-shot lead into the final round in 1972. But he looked to be in serious trouble when he whacked his penultimate tee shot into a bunker. Jack Nicklaus was in the clubhouse and sharing the lead after shooting a magnificent final-round 66 to surge into contention. Trevino’s playing partner, Tony Jacklin, had a 15-foot birdie putt for the outright lead on the par-five 17th. Trevino hit his third into the rough, and his face was a picture of despondency when he bladed his fourth shot over the green.
Yet the American was no stranger to miracles and, cool as you like, he strode over to the ball and chipped in for an unlikely par without even setting his feet. That clearly rattled Jacklin, who three-putted for a bogey. Trevino ended up beating Nicklaus, the odds-on favourite before the tournament began, by a single stroke for the second year running. Jacklin finished a further shot back and he was never the same again.
It made Trevino the first player since Arnold Palmer a decade previously to win consecutive Open Championships and it cemented his status as one of the all-time greats. He was also a constant thorn in Nicklaus’ side, winning four majors in which The Golden Bear finished second.
The Duel in the Sun – Turnberry, 1977
The 1977 Open Championship was the greatest of all time thanks to the epic battle that unfolded between legends Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson. It saw two former Open champions operating at the peak of their respective powers, and they slugged it out under the scorching Scottish sun over four gripping rounds. Each man shot 65 on the Saturday to separate themselves from the chasing pack and they went into the final day geared up for a head-to-head showdown. The fans expected fireworks, and Nicklaus and Watson did not disappoint.
There was nothing to separate them throughout the day. “This is what it's all about, isn't it?” Watson famously asked his playing partner on the 16th hole. Nicklaus smiled back and replied: “You bet it is.” On the 17th, Nicklaus finally faltered, missing a 4ft putt to hand Watson a one-stroke lead heading into the final hole. Nicklaus found heavy rough with his drive, thrashed through and knocked his ball to the edge of the green. But he had the supporters on their feet when he sank a sublime 35ft putt to pile the pressure on his opponent.
Watson had a tap-in for the win, and Nicklaus displayed great sportsmanship as he appealed for calm among the crowd. When Watson landed the putt and seized the Claret Jug, Nicklaus put an arm around him and they walked off to the scorer’s tent together. Watson ended up winning The Open five times, while he also won the US Open once and the Masters twice to end up with eight majors. Nicklaus only won three Open Championships, but his haul of 18 majors remains a record to this day.
Faldo’s Remarkable Display of Consistency – Muirfield, 1987
Sir Nick Faldo shot one of the most intriguing rounds of all time to catapult himself to Open Championship glory in 1987. He shot par on every single hole in the final round in what must amount to one of the most remarkable displays of consistency ever witnessed. No birdies, no bogeys, just 18 pars, and that was enough to see him edge out challenger Paul Azinger.
Conditions were horrendous at Muirfield that year. The winds were so treacherous that four of the holes had to be shortened, and finishing the round without dropping a shot was actually a fantastic achievement. Azinger, who led Faldo by one shot after 56 rounds, bogeyed the last two holes to finish one shot off the lead.
It made Faldo the first Englishman to win the Claret Jug since Jacklin in 1969. He would win two further Open Championships. In 1990, he won with a record-breaking 18-under thanks to rounds of 67,65, 67 and 71. He led from wire-to-wire and secured a five-shot victory. He was similarly dominant in 1992, and Faldo ended up with a total of six majors.
Rocca’s 60ft Putt - St. Andrews, 1995
John Daly was sitting in the clubhouse with a seemingly insurmountable lead when Italian Costantino Rocca stepped up to negotiate a 60ft putt for a share of the lead on the 18th. A woeful approach had given him a mountain to climb, and nobody gave him a chance of actually landing it. But Rocca landed an absolute beauty and sank to his knees in celebration as the ball dropped in. It sparked wild scenes in the stands and forced Daly out of the clubhouse and into a playoff.
However, the Italian’s celebrations were short lived, as Daly prevailed in the playoff. Yet the tournament will always be remembered for that sensational putt, which saw Rocca daring to dream of becoming the first Italian to ever win a major. The closest he ever went again was a T5 finish at The Masters the following year. But Francesco Molinari finally ended decades of hurt for Italian fans when he stormed to victory at The Open in 2018.
The 18th Hole Collapse – Carnoustie, 1999
We have witnessed some epic golfing meltdowns over the years, from Rory McIlroy producing the highest ever final-round score by a 54-hole leader at Augusta in 2011 to Jordan Spieth throwing away a five-stroke lead at the Masters in 2016. But nothing quite matches the excruciating collapse endured by Jean van de Velde at The Open in 1999.
The Frenchman carried a three-shot lead into the final hole of the tournament and he only needed to card a six or less to get his hands on the Claret Jug. Yet the pressure of becoming France’s first major champion in 92 years appeared to get the better of him as he began with a wayward tee shot. Instead of laying up, he pinged a long iron into the rough. It went from bad to worse as his third shot ended up in the water.
After much deliberation, Van de Velde took a drop and an up and down seven from a bunker left him with a triple bogey, wiping out his lead. He went into a playoff with Paul Lawrie and lost after his confidence was totally eradicated. He never came close to winning another major, and France’s long wait for a champion continues.
Tears for Tiger – Royal Liverpool, 2006
Woods won his first Open Championship in 2000 and it was a real passing of the torch moment as it saw Nicklaus wave goodbye to fans. Woods assumed the mantle of his heir apparent with aplomb and landed a second Open Championship in 2005, but his greatest triumph came the following year. It was two months after his father, Earl, passed away, and Woods put in a magnificent performance to honour his memory.
It was a masterclass in precision, as he constantly eschewed the driver and found a way to navigate the treacherous series of pot bunkers at Royal Liverpool. His rivals could not keep up and Woods finished two strokes clear of Chris DiMarco to win the title. His course management was exemplary and he only missed three shots all week.
The normally sedate champion produced a rate display of emotion as he broke down in tears. “It just came pouring out of me, all the things my dad meant to me, and the game of golf,” he said after sobbing on his caddy’s shoulder. “I just wish [my dad] could have seen it one more time.”
Thirteen years later, Woods was crying again and hugging his children as he finally ended a long period in the wilderness by claiming a 15th major title at the Masters in 2019. His kids had only seen footage of him winning big tournaments, but they could finally witness it in the flesh and it was another poignant moment in a brilliant career. It left Woods just three behind Nicklaus in the all-time stakes, and suddenly the great man was always among the favourites in the golf spread betting on major tournaments once again as he hunted down Nicklaus’ record.
Harrington Reels in Garcia – Carnoustie, 2007
In 2007, Sergio Garcia stood on the verge of a victory that would finally shake off his unwanted “best golfer to have never won a major” tag. The Spaniard was in sensational form and he led after 18, 36 and 54 holes. He was three shots ahead of second-placed Steve Stricker heading into the Sunday, and he held a six-stroke lead over seven players that were T3.
Yet Ireland’s Padraig Harrington emerged from that chasing pack with a brilliant final round performance to scramble his way into contention. As the players approached the closing stages of the tournament, Stricker had fallen away and it turned into a head-to-head battle between Garcia and a resurgent Harrington. The wheels then came off in spectacular fashion for the Irishman, who double-bogeyed on the 18th hole to give Garcia the chance to win the tournament with a 7ft putt. He missed.
It went into a four-hole playoff and by that point all the momentum was in Harrington’s court. He prevailed and became the first Irishman in 60 years to win The Open. Garcia’s hunt for that elusive major went on for another decade before he won the Masters in 2017. It was a remarkable spell that saw seven players in a row win a first ever major, as Jason Day, Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, Jimmy Walker, Garcia and Brooks Koepka all broke their major ducks in succession, with Stenson landing The Open in 2017.
Mickelson’s Magic – Muirfield, 2013
The 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield was a veritable classic. Adam Scott, the reigning Masters champion, was bidding to banish the memories of his meltdown the previous year by finally seizing the Claret Jug. Lee Westwood, Stenson and Hunter Mahan were desperately battling for a first ever major, and all eyes were on Woods as he aimed for a first triumph in five years. Phil Mickelson flew under the radar throughout the tournament and he failed to trouble the leaderboard after the first or second rounds. Lefty was T9 as we approached the final round, five shots off the lead, and he barely featured in conversations about the eventual winner.
Westwood was out in front, two shots clear of Woods and Mahan, with Scott one further stroke back and Stenson looming ominously, so the stage was set for an exhilarating battle. Yet Mickelson exploded into life on the final day. He made two birdies on the front nine to close the gap on the leaders, and he grew in confidence from there. His performance will always be remembered for two otherworldly shots with his 3-wood to secure a birdie on the par-5 17th. He ended up with four birdies in the last six holes to card a back nine score of 32 and finish three shots clear of runner-up Stenson.
All his rivals fell away and Mickelson, at the age of 43, had finally captured the third leg of a career Grand Slam. It was his lowest final round at a major and he celebrated in an iconic huddle with his family. It was heart-breaking for Stenson, but he finally bounced back by prevailing in a thrilling final-round duel with Mickelson to win the 2016 Open Championship, as Lefty’s birdie putt at 18 lipped out to grant the Swede a narrow victory.
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