We look back at 20 of the most memorable moments in the history of The Open.
1 / 20
This was the first time The Open was held at Turnberry (when it was just “Turnberry”). It featured 37-year-old Jack Nicklaus and his then-14 major championships vs. 27-year-old Tom Watson and his then-two majors. The two were paired for the final two rounds, starting one shot behind 36-hole leader Roger Maltbie. Nicklaus shot a near-flawless 65-66, but Watson, who birdied four of the final six holes, was one better at 65-65. His 268 total broke The Open’s scoring record by eight shots. In the heat of the final round, on the 14th tee, Watson said to Nicklaus, “This is what it’s all about, isn’t it, Jack?” To which Nicklaus replied, “You’re darn right.”
2 / 20
For years it has been conventional wisdom that the Duel in the Sun, the Jack Nicklaus-Tom Watson pairing in the final round of the 1977 Open Championship at Turnberry, is the greatest head-to-head battle that golf has ever seen. But in 2016, again in The Open, again in the final round, came a challenger. Henrik Stenson vs. Phil Mickelson. Stenson led Mickelson by one going into the final round, where he shot a major-championship record-equaling 63 (matching Mickelson's first-round score) to win by three shots. So, was this duel better than the Duel? "What happened at Troon was better simply because they played better," Watson told Golf Digest. "They shot lower scores."
3 / 20
Just four years after his near-fatal car accident, Ben Hogan played like a man possessed. He won the Masters by five shots and the U.S. Open by six. Making his only appearance in The Open, he won by four at Carnoustie, becoming the only player to win those three majors in the same calendar year. His victory earned him a ticker-tape parade in New York and made him only the second player, after Gene Sarazen, to complete the modern career Grand Slam.
4 / 20
The losers are often more memorable than the winners, and never was that more obvious than at Carnoustie in 1999. Frenchman Van de Velde went to the 72nd hole needing only a double-bogey 6 to win, but a brain cramp led to a 7. He chose driver off the tee and missed the shot badly to the right. Instead of laying up, he went for the green. His shot ricocheted off a grandstand railing and bounced backwards into deep rough. He chunked his third shot into the Barry Burn, then horrified spectators by wading into the water as if he were going to play from there. He eventually took a drop and made 7, then lost to Paul Lawrie in a three-man playoff that also included Justin Leonard.
5 / 20
Tiger Woods had just nuked the field in the U.S. Open, winning by a jaw-dropping 15 shots at Pebble Beach. What could he possibly do for an encore at St. Andrews? Easy – shoot a then-record for all major championships 19-under-par total and win by eight. Woods, then 24, also became the youngest to complete the career Grand Slam.
6 / 20
Jack Nicklaus, winner of the year’s first two majors, was already in the clubhouse at Muirfield, having closed with a 66. Lee Trevino and Tony Jacklin were on the tee of the par-5 17th hole, tied for the lead, one stroke ahead of Nicklaus. Trevino backed off his tee shot twice as photographers crossed the fairway, then hit a duck hook into a bunker. Three shots later, he still wasn’t on the green. But then he holed his chip shot for a miraculous par save. Jacklin, who appeared to be about to take the solo lead, then three-putted for bogey from 18 feet. Jacklin also bogeyed the 18th, while Trevino made a routine par for a one-shot win over Nicklaus.
7 / 20
If Jack Nicklaus winning the Masters at age 46 was an improbable feat, Tom Watson winning The Open at age 59 would have been indescribable. Watson came within a bogey on the 72nd hole of doing just that. The five-time Open winner tied for the lead in the second round and held a one-shot edge after 54 holes at Turnberry. He fell off the pace early in Round 4, but a birdie at the 17th hole sent him to the 18th tee needing a par to win. His approach shot rolled off the back of the green, however, and he was unable to get up and down. That sent him into a playoff with Stewart Cink, who won the four-hole extra session by six shots.
8 / 20
On the hundredth anniversary of The Open, Arnold Palmer played in it for the first time. His appearance is credited with opening the flood gates for Americans crossing the pond to play in the championship, though the increase in their numbers was more gradual than that metaphor suggests. But enough about grammar. Palmer had won the year’s first two majors and was seeking to match Ben Hogan’s 1953 feat of winning the first three. He came up just short, losing by one shot to Australian Kel Nagle. Palmer would have his revenge, though, winning The Open in each of the next two years.
9 / 20
Having come within one shot of forcing a playoff in 1960, Arnold Palmer had high hopes for his second appearance in The Open. They were justified, as he recorded a one-shot win over Dai Rees of Wales at Royal Birkdale for the first of his two wins in The Open. Rees birdied two of the last three holes to make the result appear closer than it really was. Palmer’s biggest opponent might have been the weather. The committee threatened to cancel the competition if 72 holes were not completed by the end of the day on Saturday. Fortunately for Palmer, they were.
10 / 20
The 2017 Open championship at Royal Birkdale ended up being a three-shot win by Jordan Spieth, but it wasn’t the walk in the park that that implies. Spieth actually lost the lead to Matt Kuchar on the final day, and had to make an impressive up-and-down from a practice area to remain in the hunt. Oh, and Branden Grace shot a major-championship-record 62 in the third round, but even that couldn’t take the spotlight away from Spieth.
11 / 20
The Open, played at Royal Liverpool, was the second of Jones’ four major championship victories in 1930. He had started his quest by winning the British Amateur at St. Andrews, defeating Roger Wethered, 7 and 6, in the match-play final. At Royal Liverpool, Jones shot 3-over 291 to beat Leo Diegel and Macdonald Smith by two shots.
12 / 20
One shot behind John Daly going to the 18th hole at St. Andrews, Costantino Rocca nearly drove the green on the short par-4. Seemingly in great position to make the birdie he needed to force a playoff, Rocca failed to hit his chip hard enough, and it rolled back to him through the Valley of Sin. Putting the next shot, Rocca improbably holed it from 60 feet, falling to his knees and pounding the turf in joy. His celebration was short-lived, however, as Daly won their playoff for his second major.
13 / 20
When Englishman Tony Jacklin won The Open in 1969, he became the first Briton to win the championship in 18 years, since Max Faulkner in 1951. Jacklin finished two strokes ahead of New Zealand’s Bob Charles at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. It would be another 18 years, until Nick Faldo in 1987, before another Briton won.
14 / 20
In 1914 Harry Vardon had won The Open five times – the first in 1896 and the last in 1911. He was 44 and it was questionable whether he would ever win another Open. But Vardon, little more than a year removed from nearly winning the U.S. Open (he lost in a playoff to some kid named Ouimet), knew he wasn’t done yet. And so at Prestwick, Vardon summoned the best of his game and beat defending champion J.H. Taylor by three shots.
15 / 20
Perhaps the most famous shot of Seve Ballesteros’ storied career is his wedge out of a “car park” on the 16th hole at Royal Lytham and St. Annes. Holding a two-shot lead with three holes to play, Ballesteros hit his drive well right of the fairway (he said he did it on purpose), where it ended up in an area used for overflow parking. He got a free drop, so it wasn’t as if he had to hit off the hood of a Hyundai, but he made birdie on his way to winning, certifying this as a “memorable moment.”
16 / 20
OK, we’re stretching the definition of “memorable,” since no one is alive who saw this, but Old Tom deserves his props nevertheless. He dominated the third Open, held at Prestwick, winning by 13 shots over Willie Park Sr. Granted, the entire field consisted of only four pros and four amateurs and only 36 holes were played (three circuits of Prestwick’s 12-hole course), but Morris’ margin of victory stood as a record until Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open by 15 shots in 2000. So there’s that.
17 / 20
Australian Peter Thomson had already won The Open four times, but there had been barely any Americans in the field during his wins in 1954, ’55, ’56 and ’58. But by 1965 more PGA Tour players, following Arnold Palmer’s example, were competing in The Open. It made no difference to Thomson, who won by two against a field that included Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead and defending champion Tony Lema.
18 / 20
Charles Dickens would have loved Greg Norman. For the Great White Shark, 1986 was the best of times and the worst of times. He accomplished the Saturday Slam, holding the 54-hole lead in all four majors, but converted it into a win only once, in The Open. At Turnberry, Norman equaled the major championship 18-hole record with a 63, then cruised to a five-shot win over Gordon Brand. Norman would go on to win The Open again in 1993, his only two majors.
19 / 20
Golf has never seen a father-son combination like Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris. Between them they won The Open eight times – four apiece. Old Tom won in 1861, ’62, ’64 and ’67, and Young Tom in 1868, ’69, ’70 and ’72. The torch was passed in 1868, when Young Tom, then just 17, won by three shots over his father at Prestwick. Young Tom Morris lived only to the age of 24. He died on Christmas Day 1875, just a few months after his wife died in childbirth.
20 / 20
Doug Sanders, known for his flamboyant outfits and a backswing so short it was said he could swing in a phone booth, came to the final hole at St. Andrews leading Jack Nicklaus by one shot. Sanders easily reached the 18th green in two and had a 2 ½-foot putt for par and the win. He missed it to the right, reaching out with his putter as if to rake the ball back to himself while it was still in motion. He tapped in for bogey, then lost the next day’s 18-hole playoff to Nicklaus, 72 to 73.
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