The PGA Tour descends on Royal Birkdale in Southport, England this weekend for the 2017 Open Championship.
It hasn’t been played there since Ireland’s Padraig Harrington won the second of back-to-back Open Championships in 2008. It will also mark the 10th time the Claret Jug will be contested for there.
Henrik Stenson returns to the oldest golf championship in the world as the reigning champ, having lapped the field with an Open record -20 at Troon.
Birkdale has seen some great golfers grace its fairways over the decades, including winners Peter Thomson, Arnold Palmer, Johnny Miller and Tom Watson. This year, the best of the PGA Tour will congregate there: including Masters champion Sergio Garcia, world no.1 Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Harrington, Stenson and Rickie Fowler.
Since the PGA Tour organized in 1968, there have been many great champions of this famed tournament.
There are a couple included here who have been and they are listed among 15 greats here (in order of greatness).
15. Paul Lawrie – Biggest Ever Major Championship Comeback At Carnoustie (1999)
The 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie is typically remembered for poor Frenchman Jean van de Velde’s epic collapse with a three-stroke lead on the 72nd hole and the Claret Jug in his grasp. Lost in all that ignominy was Scotsman Paul Lawrie’s massive comeback to steal it from van de Velde. Lawrie was nowhere near the leaderboard heading into Sunday, carding a 223 over the first 54 holes, 10 strokes back of van de Velde. The Frenchman scuffled but managed to birdie on 14, then par on 15 through 17 despite missing the green each time. With Lawrie in the clubhouse after shooting a 67 to finish +6, the unimaginable happened to van de Velde, who had a three-stroke lead on 18 but shot a triple bogey. Lawrie finished the biggest comeback in major championship history by winning a three-way playoff (over four holes) over van de Velde and Justin Leonard.
14. Rory McIlroy – Tames Royal Liverpool (2014)
In the long history of the Open Championship, few have won by going wire-to-wire, six to be exact. In 2014 at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England, Rory McIlroy won his only Claret Jug by doing just that. On day one, McIlroy shot a six-under 66 to take a one stroke lead in a tournament that saw the return of Tiger Woods (who was just coming back from surgery). McIlroy widened the bulge to four shots by shooting a second consecutive 66 on Friday. McIlroy’s electric Saturday round saw him make two Eagles to push his commanding lead to six strokes over Rickie Fowler who, like McIlroy, carded a 68. The final round on Sunday was more a nail-biter for the young Irishman, who had pressure applied on him by Sergio Garcia, who shot 66. But some late round trouble for Garcia was overcome and McIlroy finished 17 under, winning by two strokes.
13. Louis Oosthuizen – Crushes Competition At St. Andrews (2010)
The course that is synonymous with the Open Championship has hosted the event 29 times since the very first one in 1860. It has seen some great tournaments and champions, including Bobby Jones, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Seve Ballasteros. In 2010, the conditions were near perfect, which doesn’t happen often in Scotland and many golfers took advantage. One of them was South African Louis Oosthuizen, who was still relatively unknown in North America but a regular on the European Tour. On day one, 73 players were under par, due to the easiest conditions the Old Course had ever seen. Oosthuizen was one of them, firing a 7-under 65 to sit two shots back of Rory McIlroy for the lead. In round two, Oosthuizen kept up his assault, shooting 67 in extremely windy conditions to take a five-stroke lead into Saturday. He was extremely consistent in round three, shooting 69 to head into Sunday four strokes up on Paul Casey. That consistency served him well on Sunday, as he posted a 71 to win by an incredible seven strokes over Lee Westwood.
12. Henrik Stenson – Sets Open Championship Record At Royal Troon (2016)
Currently, there are only three Europeans ranked higher on the World Golf Ranking than Henrik Stenson. The Swedish dynamo, even in a down year, is still a threat to do great things and should make hay at Royal Birkdale this weekend as defending Open champion. Conditions at Royal Troon were ideal for low scoring last year and Stenson shot a 68 the first day to sit five shots back of leader Phil Mickelson, whose 63 tied the low round score in a major championship with 27 others. Stenson made his move in round two, carding a 65 to move within a stroke of Mickelson on cut-down day. The Saturday round saw Stenson swing into the lead with a 68, while Mickelson shot 70 (which was five shots clear of anyone else). Stenson and The Mick went toe-to-toe in the final round, with the Swede winning his first major championship with a 63, breaking the aggregate scoring record for all majors while establishing a new Open Championship record at 20-under 264.
11. Ernie Els – Wins Second Claret Jug At Royal Lytham & St. Annes (2012)
In the PGA Tour era, there have been many multiple Claret Jug winners. Not many of them, though, are as affable or civic minded as South African Ernie Els. The Big Easy has won four major championships in his career, including two U.S. Opens. Those to championships came prior to his 2002 breakthrough at Muirfield, when he triumphed in a playoff with three other players, overcoming Frenchman Thomas Levet in a sudden death playoff when four holes couldn’t determine a winner. His victory 10 years later wasn’t quite as dramatic, but satisfying nonetheless. He entered Sunday at Royal Lytham six strokes back of leader Adam Scott, who was 11-under. Els, who shot a 68 on Saturday, went bogey free on the back nine on Sunday, going into the clubhouse with another 68 while Scott struggled to maintain his lead. On 18, Scott was tied with Els, but missed an eight foot par putt to hand Els the championship after a seven-stroke swing.
10. Greg Norman – Clinches Second British Open With Monster Final Round (1993)
In his history on the PGA Tour, Greg Norman knew is share of heartache in major tournaments. However, on one epic day at Royal St. George’s in 1993, the goat horns were worn by someone else. Norman was very consistent over the first three rounds in ’93, shooting 66-68-69, heading into Sunday just one shot back of Nick Faldo and Corey Pavin. On Sunday, Faldo, who shot a 63 in the second round, got around Royal St. George’s with a respectable 67. Pavin faded slightly, carding a 70 and would finish tied for fourth. Norman used all of his shot-making prowess, however, to pip Faldo by a stroke with a 64, the lowest final round ever by an Open winner. Norman’s final aggregate of 267 was the record low for any Major at that time. That triumph would be Norman’s last at a major championship.
9. Lee Trevino – Goes Back-To-Back At Muirfield (1972)
There aren’t many true “characters” in the world of golf like Lee Trevino. Supermex, who had a hardscrabble early life and got his start in golf by sneaking into country clubs in Texas to practice with old golf clubs. He sharked his way into professional golf around 1966 and by 1968 was a U.S. Open champion. In 1971, he won another U.S. Open, then followed it up with an engaging victory over Taiwanese golfer and fellow showman Lu Liang-Huan at Royal Birkdale. Trevino overcame a terrible seven on 17 to par 18 and beat Liang-Huan by a stroke. In 1972, Trevino had to hold off the juggernaut that was Jack Nicklaus. The Golden Bear had won the Masters and the U.S. Open and was the odds-on favorite to emerge victorious at Muirfield, where he won in 1966. Trevino entered the final round at Muirfield with a six-stroke lead over Nicklaus and had to hang on with everything he had to beat him by a stroke and become the first golfer in 10 years to successfully defend his title (Arnold Palmer did it in 1962).
8. Arnold Palmer – Wins Second Consecutive Open At Troon (1962)
Yes, we know the late Arnold Palmer’s victories in the Open Championship pre-date the PGA Tour, but he was active and successful on the circuit later. In 1961, Palmer beat Dai Rees by a stroke to claim the Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale. It was impressive considering he was runner-up in his first ever Open Championship at St. Andrews in 1960. In ’62, Palmer had to stare down Australian Kel Nagle, who was the one to beat him by a stroke at the venerable Old Course in 1960. The 1962 event at Troon (it wasn’t Royal yet) marked the last time that all players had to qualify, including Palmer. Nagle and Palmer finished the first round tied for third after carding a 71 each. On day two, Palmer fired a three-under 69 to assume the lead, two strokes ahead of Nagle (71 again). Palmer then widened the gap to five with a superb 67 in the third round, while Nagle carded a 70. Palmer completed his mastery of Troon with a final round 69, claiming his second straight Open title, six strokes ahead of Nagle.
7. Padraig Harrington – Holds On To Win First Of Two Straight At Carnoustie (2007)
Irishman Harrington had yet to win a major in 2007 and very nearly pulled a “van de Velde” at Carnoustie that year. He began his ascent to the top of the leaderboard that year with an opening round 69, putting him in a tie for eighth, four strokes back of leader Sergio Garcia. On day two, Harrington only managed a two-over 73, putting him six strokes back of Garcia on moving day. The third round wasn’t much different, as Garcia carded a 68 to go into Sunday a nine-under, while Harrington also fired 68 to remain within six. The final round, though, was rather wild, with several leads exchanged between Garcia, Harrington and Andres Romero. On the final hole and with a one-shot lead, Harrington, with visions of van de Velde dancing in his head, found the Barry Burn twice and shot double bogey. Garcia, in the final group, missed a 10-footer on 18 for par and a chance to win, but lipped out, forcing a playoff. Harrington became the first Irishman in 60 years to win it, shooting 15 to Garcia’s 16 in a four-hole aggregate.
6. Gary Player – Completes Open Hat Trick At Royal Lytham & St. Annes (1974)
In the PGA Tour era, only six golfers have won three or more titles, with South African Gary Player completing his own trifecta with a victory at Royal Lytham in 1974. He started his Open Championship mastery with a huge come-from-behind triumph at Muirfield in 1959. He shot 75-71-70-68 to overcome the four-stroke advantage held by 54-hole leader, Brit Fred Bullock. The “Man In Black” won his second of three Claret Jugs in 1968 at Carnoustie with a narrow two-stroke edge over a Jack Nicklaus and Bob Charles. In 1974, Player won the seventh of nine career Majors at the Masters, putting him as a favorite to capture his third Open Championship at Royal Lytham. Player finished day one at 69, giving him a share of the lead with Englishman John Morgan. He would never relinquish the lead after that, holding off Peter Oosterhuis with a four-stroke victory.
5. Nick Faldo – Wins Third Open Championship in Six Years At Muirfield (1992)
It’s kind of hard to believe that Nick Faldo was the last Englishman to win an Open Championship, doing so at Muirfield with a narrow one-shot margin over American John Cook at Muirfield in 1992. Sir Nick was at the height of his powers in the late 1980s, early 1990s, winning three Masters and three Opens. Other golfers of his ilk have been known for more dramatic wins, but Faldo was almost boring in how consistent he was. In fact, he won the first of this three Claret Jugs at Muirfield in 1987 by parring each and every hole of the final 18, nipping rival American Paul Azinger by a stroke. In 1990 at St. Andrew’s, Faldo was a little more dynamic, getting around the Old Course in an impressive -18, easily beating Zimbabwean Mark McNulty and American Payne Stewart by five strokes. He went against script in ’92, actually shooting progressively worse scores after his 64 on day two with a 69 on Saturday and a 73 on Sunday to narrowly beat Cook.
4. Seve Ballesteros – Trumps Nick Price For Third Title At Royal Lytham (1988)
The late, great Seve Ballesteros was straight up a winner. The Spaniard won more than 90 international tournaments and five major championships between 1979 and 1988, including three Open Championships and two Masters. In 1979, at the tender age of 22, he became the first player of Spanish descent — and the only one ever — to claim the Claret Jug with three stroke victory over Ben Crenshaw and Jack Nicklaus at Royal Lytham and St. Annes. Five years later, Ballesteros edged out Bernhard Langer and five-time champion Tom Watson (who was the defending champ), by two shots to win at the Old Course in St. Andrews. He returned to Royal Lytham in 1988 to finish his three-peat, exchanging leads through the first three rounds with Nick Price and then beating him in the first Monday finish by two strokes at 11-under.
3. Jack Nicklaus – Claims Third And Last Open Championship At St. Andrews (1978)
He may not be the greatest Open champion in the history of the tournament, but Nicklaus was one of its fiercest competitors. He competed in the world’s oldest tourney 38 times, winning it three times, as well as finishing third twice and second on seven occasions. In 1966, when he was 26, the Golden Bear beat Welshman Dave Thomas and countryman Doug Sanders by a single stroke to win his first Claret Jug at Muirfield. He was so awed by the course he developed his own Muirfield in Dublin, Ohio. Four years later, Nicklaus had to go 18 playoff holes at St. Andrews on Sunday to take down Sanders again, by a count of 72 to 73. His last triumph also came at the Old Course in 1978, which was the 15th of his record 18 Major titles. He was four strokes back on moving day and then got within a stroke on day three. In the final round he carded a 69 to beat four other golfers, including Ray Floyd, Tom Kite and Ben Crenshaw, by two strokes.
2. Tiger Woods – Repeats To Win Third Title at Royal Liverpool (2006)
Like the man he still chases for the most Major championship titles, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods has been a ferocious competitor at Open Championships. Woods put himself on the board at the Open with a resounding victory at St. Andrews in 2000, never hitting a bunker and recording a -19, a record that stood until Henrik Stenson’s -20 in 2016. Then, in 2005, he was one of the few to lead wire-to-wire, again at St. Andrews, finishing with a four round total of 274 to beat Scotsman Colin Montgomerie by five shots. His repeat triumph in 2006 was an emotional won for Tiger, whose father Earl passed away earlier that year. Woods trailed by a stroke after the first round and then blazed into a lead he would never relinquish on the way to nipping Chris DiMarco by two strokes to hoist the Claret Jug for the third and last time.
1. Tom Watson – Five-Time Champion Finishes Second At Age 59 (2009)
He didn’t win in 2009, but Tom Watson staged the most memorable run at an Open Championship title in recent memory. The five-time Open champion was 59 in 2009 and by that point had not been a factor in the tournament since finishing tied for 10th in 1997. However, the ’09 event was at Turnberry, site of his second Open Championship win in 1977. Prior to that he won his first at Carnoustie in 1975, and later would emerge victorious at Muirfield (1980) and back-to-back in 1982 (Royal Troon) and 1983 (Royal Birkdale). A full 26 years later, he nearly won a sixth. On day one, the old boy fired a 65 to sit a stroke off the lead. He then carded a 70 in the second round to claim a share of the lead with Steve Marino. Watson kept the assembled masses humming when he went out on Saturday and shot a 71 to go into the final round solo first by one shot. In the final round, Watson needed a par on 18 to win, but bogeyed, forcing a playoff with Stewart Cink. Watson ran out of gas in a four-hole aggregate playoff, losing the thriller by six strokes.