The Open Championship is the oldest of golf’s four major championships, so as you’d expect, it’s produced some incredible moments in its decorated history. The field is stacked yet again this year for the Open Championship in what should be a great tournament.
Looking back, here are nine of the best moments in Open Championship history:
Historic “Duel in the Sun” between Watson and Nicklaus
At the Open Championship in 1977, Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus gave the term “matching cards” a new meaning. The two fired identical scores of 68, 70, and 65 through the first three rounds of the championship, running away from the rest of the field heading into the final round. In what’s known as the “Duel in the Sun,” Nicklaus and Watson continued to go back and forth on Sunday, with the battle for the claret jug coming down to the final two holes. All square on the 17th tee, Watson found the green in two, leaving himself with a lengthy eagle putt. Nicklaus hit his eagle chip to about five feet, so both were in good position to make birdie. Watson two-putted for birdie, while Nicklaus shockingly missed his short putt, giving Watson a one-stroke lead heading into the 72nd hole. Likely needing a birdie, Nicklaus’ tee shot found the rough, but was able to hit the green in regulation. Watson did so as well, sticking his approach to about four feet. Nicklaus somehow drained his long birdie putt, but Watson matched him with a birdie of his own to win his second Open Championship. It was truly a battle for the ages, and should be considered one of the best, if not the best, Open Championship of all time.
Costantino Rocca’s miracle putt in 1995
Costantino Rocca may not have won the 1995 Open Championship, but he certainly gave us one of the best moments in Open Championship history. Trailing by one heading into the final hole, Rocca needed a birdie to tie John Daly, who was already in the clubhouse at 6 under. Rocca hit his tee shot just in front of the green, needing to get up and down to force a playoff. Rocca flubbed his chip, leaving himself with a 65-foot birdie putt. The Italian drained it and fell to his knees in joy. Unfortunately for Rocca, the then-baby-faced Daly would go on to win his second major championship in the four-hole playoff.
Tiger Woods completes career grand slam in 2000
No golfer was as good as Tiger Woods was in 2000, and the Open Championship that year sealed the deal. Not only was it the second of three major victories for Woods on the season, but it also gave him a huge career milestone. With his eight-stroke victory at St. Andrews, he became just the fifth golfer to complete the career grand slam and he was only 24 years old. Ernie Els and Thomas Bjorn were the closest competitors to Woods, but to say they were close would be wrong. Woods posted four rounds in the 60s, and even more incredibly, found zero bunkers all week. This was the second of four consecutive major victories for Woods from 2000 to 2001, or more commonly known as the “Tiger Slam.”
Padraig Harrington becomes first Irishman in 60 years to win The Open
Padraig Harrington went into the 2007 Open Championship with his home country of Ireland winless at The Open for the last 60 years, a drought much too long. Harrington entered the final round six strokes back of the leader, Sergio Garcia. Harrington made a double-bogey on the 18th hole in regulation, in what seemed to be a mistake of epic proportions. Garcia came to the 18th tee needing to make a par to claim his first major championship, but the claret jug slipped through his fingertips as he made bogey. Harrington went on to win in the playoff, taking home his first major title, and bringing the trophy back to Ireland after 60 long years.
Jean Van de Velde’s collapse, Lawrie’s comeback in 1999
Paul Lawrie won the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie. I’m simply stating that fact because most people will remember that tournament as the one that featured an epic collapse. Jean Van de Velde held a five-shot lead heading into Sunday, setting up what would be a round the Frenchman would like to forget. He would post a final-round 77, and as poorly as Van de Velde played, he still had a chance to win coming to the 18th tee. Needing to make a six or better on the final hole, Van de Velde went in with a three-shot cushion and a driver in his hands. His tee shot found the rough, and his second bounced off of the grandstand and back into the deep rough. His third shot from the rough landed in the Barry Burn, and then came a decision. Van de Velde climbed into the hazard and contemplated playing his shot from the water for several minutes before eventually opting to take a drop. His next shot found the greenside bunker, a shot he needed to hole to win the claret jug. He’d eventually make up-and-down to tie Justin Leonard and Lawrie for the lead. After beginning the final round 10 shots back, Lawrie came out on top in the playoff, ending Van de Velde’s hope for redemption after falling apart.
Tiger Woods wins in 2006 after death of his father
The 2006 Open Championship marked the major’s return to Royal Liverpool after 39 years. Many of the players had never played the course competitively before then. Tiger Woods, in just his third tournament since his father’s passing a few months prior, showed no signs of unfamiliarity. He finished at 18-under, two shots ahead of Chris DiMarco, cruising to his 11th major championship victory. But this win wasn’t about No. 11 for Woods. It was about No. 1 … as in his first major victory without his father, Earl. Woods tapped in his putt on the 72nd hole and hugged his caddie, Steve Williams, as thoughts of his father ran through his head. It’s truly a moment that sends chills down your spine each and every time.
Tom Watson loses in playoff at age of 59
Tom Watson went into the 2009 Open Championship at the age of 59, having already won the tournament five times prior. Paired with a 16-year-old amateur, Matteo Manassero, and Sergio Garcia, Watson hardly showed his age. He fired rounds of 65 and 70 on the first two days, but his scores continued to rise into the weekend. Third- and fourth-round scores of 71 and 72 doomed the five-time champion, as fellow American Stewart Cink made a final-round charge up the leaderboard with a closing 69. Nevertheless, Watson was still left with a great chance to win as he stood on the tee at the 72nd hole. Needing a par, Watson’s shot rolled past the pin and off the green, needing to make up-and-down to win. His chip rolled 10 feet past the hole, leaving him with a par putt for the victory. The putt was never on line, missing badly, short and to the right. In the playoff with Cink, Watson simply appeared to run out of gas. Cink birdied two of the four playoff holes en route to his first Open Championship victory.
Phil Mickelson wins first claret jug in comeback fashion
Phil Mickelson suffered another heartbreaking second-place finish at the U.S. Open a few months prior to the Open Championship in 2013, but felt no ill effects from the defeat. Following a victory at the Scottish Open one week prior, Mickelson was riding plenty of momentum into Muirfield, and it showed. Mickelson opened with a first-round 69, but faltered on Friday and Saturday, shooting 74 and 72. Then came Sunday, and Mickelson brought his A-game. He began the day five strokes back of the leader, but it was definitely not a task too tall for Lefty. He fired a final-round 66, hitting magical shots on seemingly every hole down the stretch as he birdied four of his final six holes. Mickelson made just one bogey in the final round, while others faltered. He finally claimed that elusive claret jug for the first time, and gave everyone reason to think “what could have been” had he won the U.S. Open in 2013, as well.
Miguel Angel Jimenez goes off the wall in 2010
Likely less of a “great moment” and more of a “great shot,” Miguel Angel Jimenez pulled off a magical shot that isn’t often done successfully … if ever. Jimenez’s ball landed in an unfortunate spot on the 17th hole at St. Andrews, essentially resting against a stone wall. Jimenez — being the man that he is — decided to play the shot off of the wall that doomed him in the first place, ricocheting his ball off of it and onto the putting surface. The best part? Jimenez took three steps towards the green before his ball fell from the sky. Simply put: “The Mechanic” at his best.
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