Tag: The Open Championship

Major Comebacks: The Top 10

Johnny Miller and Steve Elkington: Classic Swings and Historic Major Comebacks
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Number 10: 2012 Open Championship– Ernie Els

Ernie Els was 42 years old back in 2012, and it had been ten years since he won The Open in 2002. He had missed the cut in 3 of the 4 major championships in 2011, with only a single Top 10 finish on the PGA Tour in 21 starts. And although Els recorded 5 consecutive Top-10’s at Augusta National from 2000 through 2005 (including 2 runner-up finishes), he had dropped out of the top 50 in the World Golf Rankings, and The Masters Committee declined to offer him a special exemption—so he missed the Masters for the first time in 17 years.

As the sting of missing The Masters receded, Ernie’s game began to get in gear with a runner-up at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in late April, and he started looking very much like the Els of old with a Top 10 at the U.S. Open in June at the Olympic Club.

The 2012 Open was played at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club, and Ernie got off to a solid start with a 67 in the first round—but Adam Scott fired a brilliant 64 and he was 3 shots off the lead. Els continued to play well in the second and third rounds to stand at 5 under, but Adam was playing even better, and as the final round got under way on Sunday Scott had opened up a 6-shot lead.

It didn’t get any better for Ernie through the first 9 on Sunday as he posted a 2 over 37, including a bogey at the ninth, and Scott’s lead remained at 6 shots going to the back—with seemingly little hope that Els would lift the Claret Jug for a second time.

Although Ernie got hot and birdied 3 out of the first 5 holes on the back nine, he still trailed Scott by 4 with only 4 holes to play. But anything can happen down the stretch at an Open Championship.

Scott struggled on the closing holes, finishing with 4 consecutive bogies to finish at 6 under. Els made par at 15, 16 and 17, and then hammered a perfect tee shot down the middle on the last. After a crisp wedge that came down 20 feet from the pin, Ernie drilled the putt for birdie to shoot 31 on the back and a 68, posting 7 under to become the 2012 Champion Golfer in one of the greatest comeback victories of all time.

Ernie Els: 2012 Open Championship

Number 9: 1995 PGA Championship– Steve Elkington

Seventeen years before his dramatic comeback victory at The Open, Ernie Els began the final round of the 1995 PGA Championship at Riviera Country Club with a 3 shot lead over Mark O’Meara and Jeff Maggert, 5 shots over Colin Montgomerie, and a 6 shot margin over Steve Elkington and Craig Stadler.

Ernie was at the top of his game in 1995, having recorded 4 major Top-10’s and a U.S. Open title between 1992 and 1994. The only player among the leaders with a major victory was Craig Stadler, and his win at The Masters had come almost twenty years earlier in 1976—so it seemed inevitable that Els would raise the Wanamaker Trophy when play concluded on Sunday.

Steve Elkington, however, was on a mission. With perhaps the greatest swing of all-time, Elk was at the top of his game with a T5 at Augusta in April and a T6 at The Open Championship in July. And although he was again battling the severe sinus problems that plagued him throughout his career, Elkington knocked down stick after stick on Sunday to post a magnificent final round 64—overcoming a 6 shot deficit to finish in a tie with Montgomerie at 17 under par.

When his birdie putt dropped on the first playoff hole, Elkington had won the PGA Championship—and completed one of the greatest comebacks in history.

Phil Mickelson: 2013 Open Championship

Number 8: 2013 Open Championship– Phil Mickelson

Phil had suffered yet another devastating U.S. Open loss at Marion in June, his sixth runner-up finish at the championship he so much wanted to win, so it seemed unlikely that Lefty could bounce back and make a serious run at the Claret Jug in July.

Mickelson, however, continued to push by sharpening his links game while winning the Scottish Open in the week leading up to The Open Championship at Muirfield.

While Phil got off to a good start with a 69 in the first round, he disappeared from the leader board completely with a second round 74—so it seemed highly unlikely that lefty would make The Open his 5th major championship. Muirfield was proving a tough test, however, and Phil fought his way back with a solid 72 in the third round, but still found himself 5 shots off the pace set by leader Lee Westwood heading into the final round.

As the wind started to blow on Sunday, Phil uncharacteristically went to his 3 wood and fashioned a masterful closing round 66 to finish at 3 under par—one of the greatest performances of his illustrious career. And when Westwood faltered with a closing 75, and the other players at the top of the leaderboard succumbed to the weather, Phil won going away with a 3 shot victory in one of the most memorable comebacks in major championship history.

Nick Faldo: 1996 Masters

Number 7: 1996 Masters– Nick Faldo

In the fifteen Masters championships Norman had played heading to August National in 1996, Greg had recorded 2 runner-up finishes, 2 third place finishes, 2 top-5’s and a top 10. And when he opened with a dominating 63 in the first round, it appeared that 1996 would be the year that Norman would slip the green jacket over his shoulders at last.

Norman continued to play solid golf on Friday and Saturday, posting rounds of 69 and 71 for a 54-hole total of 13 under and a commanding 6-shot lead over Nick Faldo going to Sunday.

With his customary laser focus, Faldo applied the pressure in the final round by posting 2 under on the front nine as Norman began to disintegrate with 3 bogeys and a lone birdie—a 4 shot swing that left Faldo only 2 behind going to the back nine.

While Norman imploded completely with 41 on the back, Faldo kept his foot firmly on the gas with a 33 on the closing nine, a final round 67, and a 5 shot victory. Most remember the 1996 Masters for Norman’s colossal collapse, but Faldo’s magnificent final round was stunning—and one of the all-time comebacks in major championship history.

Padraig Harrington: 2007 Open Championship

Number 6: 2007 Open Championship– Padraig Harrington

Sergio Garcia fired a sizzling opening round 65 in pursuit of his first major championship at Carnoustie Golf Links in the 2007 Open Championship, jumping out to a 2 shot lead over Irishman Paul McGinley. At 27 years old, Garcia had recorded 12 major Top-10’s in his career without a win, and it was looking like this would be the week when he finally broke through.

Sergio increased his lead through 54 holes with rounds of 71 and 68 on Friday and Saturday as he climbed to 9 under par going into the final round on Sunday—and it seemed he would just need to hold off Steve Stricker, who had pulled within 3 shots with a brilliant 64 on Saturday.

With all eyes focused on Garcia and Stricker, another Irishman, Padraig Harrington, who had begun the day six shots back at 3 under, slowly began creeping up the leaderboard with birdies on the 3rd, 6th and 9th holes. Meanwhile, Garcia began to stumble with 3 bogeys and a birdie on the front, so his lead had shriveled to a single shot over Harrington.

When Padraig made birdie at 11 and then eagle at 14, he moved to 9 under par and the outright lead. At the 18th hole, however, it suddenly appeared that Padraig’s gutsy charge had come to an end when his approach found the water—resulting in a disastrous double that dropped him once again to a shot back of Sergio’s lead.

Garcia, however, was unable to make par at 18, and his bogey gave Harrington a reprieve as they both finished at 7 under par and headed to a 4-hole playoff.

Padraig made the most of it, playing the extra holes in even par to defeat Sergio by a shot— completing.one of the most exciting finishes (and greatest comebacks) in major championship history.

Payne Stewart: 1989 PGA Championship

Number 5: 1989 PGA Championship– Payne Stewart

Payne Stewart opened the 1989 PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes Golf Club with a 74, 8 shots behind Mike Reid, who fired a flawless round of 66. And although Stewart came back strong in the second round with a 66 of his own, he picked up only a single shot as Reid followed up with another great round of 67.

Reid began to back up a bit with a 70 in the third round on Saturday, but again Stewart picked up only one shot while recording a solid round of 69, so Payne found himself six shots back of the lead going into Sunday. On top of that, there were four major champions on the leaderboard between he and Reid (Craig Stadler, Seve Ballesteros, Ian Woosnam, and reigning back-to-back U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange).

Having recorded 10 Top-10’s in his previous 17 major championships and coming up empty, Stewart refused to be denied once again. After playing the front nine at even par, Payne birdied 5 holes on the back without a bogey for 67, a tounamnet toal of -12, the first of his 3 major championship wins, and a comeback victory that continues to bring a smile to the face of everyone who witnessed his magnificent performance all those years ago.

John Mahaffey: 1978 PGA Championship

Number 4: 1978 PGA Championship– John Mahaffey

John Mahaffey had a solid career on the PGA Tour with 10 wins, but his performance at the 1978 PGA Championship would become his defining moment. Opening with a first round 75 at historic Oakmont Country Club, Mahaffey began the final 54 holes in a very deep hole—eight shots behind Hall of Famer Tom Watson, who had posted a 67.

Mahaffey began to claw his way back into contention with a 67 on Friday, but still found himself six shots behind going into the weekend. And although he backed it up with an outstanding round of 68 on Saturday, he actually lost ground to Watson, who fired a third round 67 and stood at -10 heading into Sunday, 7 shots clear of Mahaffey who was at 3 under par.

But when Tom faltered on Sunday with a 73, Mahaffey maximized his opportunity by carding a magnificent 66, erasing a 7 shot deficit to force a 3-man playoff with Watson and Jerry Pate.

When Mahaffey birdied the second playoff hole, he claimed the Wanamaker Trophy and recorded the biggest Sunday comeback in PGA Championship history.

Gary Player: 1978 Masters

Number 3: 1978 Masters– Gary Player

Gary Player had already won at Augusta twice before with 11 Top-10’s when play got under way at The Masters in 1978. With even par rounds of 72 on Thursday and Friday, Player appeared to be treading water while waiting to make a move, and trailed the leaders (Rod Funseth and Lee Trevino) by 5 shots going to the weekend.

Although Gary kicked it up a notch with a 69 on Saturday, it seemed he had waited just a bit too long as Hubert Green fired a 65 in the third round for a 54-hole total of -10, opening up a 3 shot lead on the field, and a whopping 7 shot margin over Player.

As Sunday’s final round began to heat up, Player crept closer to Green with 3 birdies and a bogey on the front, but Hubert was playing solidly at even par and Gary was still 5 shots behind him going to the back nine.

Since it appeared that Green would not be giving anything away, and Tom Watson had made eagle at 13 to join the lead at 10 under, Player decided it was time to light the afterburner.

With 6 birdies on the back (7 in his last 10 holes), Player charged to the clubhouse with a 30 on the back nine for a final round 64 and a 72-hole total of 11 under par—a shot ahead of the field, and biggest comeback ever at Augusta National.

Johnny Miller: 1973 U.S. Open
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Number 2: 1973 U.S. Open– Johnny Miller

The 54-hole leaderboard at the 1973 U.S. Open included many of the all-time greats in the history of golf, including Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player (tied for ninth, 4 shots back at +1), Lee Trevino and Bob Charles (tied for 6th, 2 shots back at -1), and Tom Weiskopf (alone in 5th, 1 shot back at -2). The co-leaders at -3, included Arnold Palmer and Julius Boros, as well as two unheralded tour pros–Jerry Heard and John Schlee.

With so many great players at the top of the leaderboard, it would be pretty much impossible for anyone more than four shots back to win the championship, since even if all of the co-leaders were to falter, one of the other legends who were lurking in the wings was likely to post a low score.

Johnny Miller was seven shots behind the leaders at +4 when play began on Sunday, and to win the championship he would have to go extremely low. Making it even more improbable, the ’73 Open was being played at famed Oakmont Country Club, one of the toughest U.S. Open venues in the rotation.

But Miller did exactly that, firing laser-like approach shots to record 9 birdies on his way to a record setting 63 and the U.S. Open Championship trophy in one of finest rounds ever played, and one of the greatest comebacks in history.

Paul Lawrie: 1999 Open Championship
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Number 1: 1999 Open Championship– Paul Lawrie

What most remember when thinking back on the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie is Jean Van de Velde’s disastrous triple bogey on the 18th hole—and that was certainly a difficult and painful moment for the Frenchman who fought so hard throughout the week.

What is less often talked about is the fantastic final round played by Paul Lawrie. Carnoustie, one of the most difficult courses in the Open Championship rotation, had played particularly tough all week with no one in the field under par when play began on Sunday.

Lawrie began the day in a tie for 14th place at +10, ten shots behind Van de Velde. In one of the greatest rounds ever recorded at a major on Sunday, Lawrie navigated the yawning pot bunkers and gnarly rough through gusting winds to post a magnificent four under round of 67. In the entire field, only 3 other players were able to break 70 (Davis Love, Scott Verplank, and Steve Allen—who each shot 69).

When Lawrie defeated Van de Velde and Justin Leonard in a playoff to claim the Claret Jug, his charge from ten shots off the lead became the biggest Sunday comeback in the history of major championship golf.

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2022 Open Championship: Cam Smith unleashes the Wand

Cameron Smith: 2022 Champion Golfer
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As The Open headed into the back nine on Sunday at St. Andrews, the engraver prepared to etch Rory McIlroy’s name on the Claret Jug. McIlroy stood at 17 under par, having opened up a 3 shot lead over young Victor Hoveland, and he was in complete control of his game. Rory had already recorded a runner-up at the Masters, T8 at the PGA and a T5 at the U.S. Open—and it seemed a certainty that his long awaited fifth major championship was at hand.

Anything can happen, however, on the back-nine of an Open Championship on Sunday, particularly at St. Andrews.

St. Andrews: The Old Course

When a thunderous cheer suddenly erupted from the 11th green, the name to be inscribed on the oldest Trophy in golf would have to wait a bit. Cameron Smith had just rolled in another putt, making consecutive birdies to get within 2 shots of McIlroy. Rory was on cruise control, bombing drives and hitting greens—but making no putts (his only birdie on the back nine came when he drove the green on 10, and 2-putted for a 3). Cam Smith, on the other hand, was making everything. At the 12th hole he drove it to the very front of the green, leaving a difficult eagle putt from over 70 feet—and drained an 11-footer for birdie to pull within 1 shot of Rory. On the 13th, Cam rolled in another birdie, this time from nearly 20-feet, to pull even with McIlroy at 18 under par. And on the Par 5 14th hole Smith completed a stretch of 5 consecutive birdie’s by knocking in a 5-footer that brought him to 19 under par, and the outright lead.

Rory: Top 10 at Four Majors in 2022

The Magic

The championship hung in the balance as Smith reached number 17, the famous “Road Hole,” still clinging to a 1 shot lead. A poor approach left him just under the steep faced bunker guarding the front left of the green, and the pin was tucked just behind it. With brilliant touch and steel nerve Cam pulled the putter once again, and using the contour surrounding the bunker, was able to give himself an opportunity to save par from 10 feet—and then calmly knocked it in.

 The 18th hole of the Old Course at St. Andrews is reachable with a well-struck tee shot, and one of the most exciting finishing holes in golf. While all eyes were on Rory, however, a powerful young phenom, 25-year-old Cameron Young, had quietly moved back into contention, pulling within 2 shots of Smith’s lead—and they were playing together in the second to last pairing.

Cam Smith: Unleashes the Wand
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After Smith hit a solid tee shot just short of the green, Young unleashed a bomb that settled pin-high with a very makeable eagle opportunity from just 17 feet—a putt that would draw him even with Smith at 19 under and force a playoff. Cam was also fully aware that Rory, still only a shot back at 18 under, was likely to reach the green at 18 and have an opportunity for eagle, or a 2- putt birdie that would move him to 19 under as well.

Facing a 75-foot putt up the slope with a sharp right to left break and maximum Open pressure, Cam smoothly rolled his ball to within 3 feet, where he tapped in to finish at 20 under par, a shot ahead of Cameron Young (who indeed made his eagle putt to finish at 19 under). When Rory failed to eagle the last, Cam added his name to the illustrious group who have won The Open on the Old Course, while setting a new scoring record at St. Andrews.

Cam Smith

His Open Championship victory is the latest in a breakout year for Cam. He won the Players back in March, and followed that up with a T3 at the Masters, a T13 at the PGA and a T13 at the Memorial. Ranked 7th on Tour in putting, I suppose it should not have been much of a surprise to see him roll it so beautifully at St. Andrews, but when you consider the venue and the pressure of closing at a major, it was a truly spectacular performance.

At 28 years of age, Smith has always carried himself with the confidence and swagger of a PGA Tour veteran. And with 5 Tour wins, including a major championship and Player’s Championship under his belt, Cam is in position to secure a place in the World Golf Hall of Fame—and the putter to make it happen.

Cameron Young

At 25-years old, in only his first season on Tour, Cameron Young will be a force on the PGA Tour for many years to come. In addition to his gutsy runner-up finish at The Open, Young recorded a T3 at the PGA back in May, runner-up finishes at The Genesis and Wells Fargo Championships, and T3’s at both the RBC Heritage and Sanderson Farms Championships.

Cameron Young: Power and Putting

While Young’s primary weapon is the driver (currently ranked 6th in distance from the tee at 318 yards), Cameron is lethal on the greens as well (8th on Tour in putting). That’s a powerhouse combination, and will make him a man to keep an eye on as the season rolls toward the FedEx Cup playoffs.

LIV

The LIV contingent made their presence felt at The Open, erasing a mediocre performance at the U.S Open, and no doubt bringing a smile to Greg Norman’s face. 10 of the 23 LIV players who competed at The Open made the cut, with Dustin Johnson (-13) and Bryson DeChambeau (-12) recording Top 10’s. Abraham Ancer and Sadom Kaewkanjana both finished at -11, among the Top 20.

Their play on Sunday was particularly impressive, as both Ancer and Kaewkanjana fired closing rounds of 65, with Bryson carding a 66.

The third LIV event is scheduled for July 29-31 at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, NJ.

Trump National, Bedminster NJ
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2022 Open Championship: 150 Years of History

St. Andrews: the Old Course

The Open Championship returns to the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland this week to crown the 150th Champion Golfer of the Year. Scotland is the birthplace of golf, with historical records of play at the Old Course going all the way back to 1414. While Open week is always special for everyone who loves golf, 2022 promises to be uniquely memorable with images of past champions at a place where golf has been played for centuries.

The History

In the 1840’s and 50’s, Allan Robertson was the greenskeeper and golf professional at St. Andrews, and universally recognized as the greatest golfer in the world at the time (he also is said to be the first golf professional). In 1848 he made the first recorded modifications to the Old Course–widening the fairways and creating the famous “double greens.” A few years earlier Robertson had laid out the original 10 holes at Carnoustie Golf Links, so he is also the first to be credited for golf course design and architecture.

Allan Robertson
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In the mid-1830’s Robertson hired a youthful Tom Morris, Sr. as an apprentice, and their relationship would bring about the most famous golf tournament in the world: “The Open Championship.” Although Robertson was already unbeatable on the links (it is said that he never lost a match when money was involved), he soon saw that his young apprentice possessed an uncanny talent for golf, and since matches were often played in a two-man alternate shot format, he shrewdly enlisted Tom as his partner to create an invincible tandem. In 1851, however, Morris and Robertson had a falling out when Tom began playing a new kind of golf ball, rather than the “feather” balls that Robertson made and sold at St. Andrews. As a result, Morris left for Prestwick Golf Club in Ayrshire, where he laid out the course and became club pro and greenskeeper. His admiration for Robertson remained steadfast, however, and when Robertson passed away in 1859, Morris decided to organize a tournament in his honor—with the winner recognized as the “Champion Golfer.”

Old Tom Morris
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The first Open Championship was played at Prestwick Golf Club in 1860, and was won by Willie Park, Sr. Prestwick hosted The Open for the next 11 years, with Tom Morris, Sr. (Old Tom) and Tom Morris, Jr. (Young Tom) each winning 4 times. In 1873 The Open moved to St. Andrews, and Tom Kidd became the first to be crowned “Champion Golfer” at the Old Course. 2022 will mark the 30th Open to be contested at St. Andrews, the most by far of any course to host a major championship. And the list of winners at the Old Course includes many of the legendary names in golf history.

Champion Golfers at St. Andrews

Jack Nicklaus, acknowledged by most as the greatest golfer in history, won two of his 18 major championships at the Old Course (1970, 1978). Tiger, the greatest of all-time to those who do not think it is Jack, also won 2 of his 15 major championships at St. Andrews (2000, 2005).

Tiger and Jack

Multiple winners at St. Andrews also include John Henry Taylor (1895, 1905) and James Braid (1905, 1910). Both won the Open Championship 5 times, and each are also known for their work in golf course architecture and design.

Sir Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros

Other members of the World Golf Hall of Fame who have won the Open Championship at St. Andrews include Sam Snead in 1946, Seve Ballesteros (a 3-time Open Champion) in 1984, and Sir Nick Faldo in 1990 (also a 3-time Open Champion).

The Contenders

Coming off his victory at the U.S. Open in June, and a Top 10 last week at the Scottish Open, Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick has his game in fine form to contend at St. Andrews. Scottie Scheffler is a virtual lock to be among the leaders come Sunday, as he looks to add another major to his resume following an impressive win at the Masters and runner-up at the U.S. Open. Reigning PGA Champ Justin Thomas, enjoying an outstanding season that includes 8 Top 10’s in 17 starts on the PGA Tour this year, will also be a force as he looks to etch his name among the legends of golf who have won at the Old Course. Jon Rahm, in the midst of another stellar year where he has made the cut in 14 of 15 events with a win and 5 additional Top 10’s, will undoubtedly be lurking should the opportunity arise.

Scottie Scheffler, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Justin Thomas

Rory McIlroy, with his peerless talent, has been pounding on the door with a runner-up at Augusta, Top 10 at the PGA, and a Top 5 at the U.S. Open thus far in 2022. If the putter cooperates even a bit, Rory will be a formidable presence in the field—and perhaps this will be the week he adds that 5th major championship.

Rory McIlroy and John Rham

Tiger Woods, returning to St. Andrews where in 2000 he delivered one of the most decisive wins in Open history (an 8-stroke margin over runners up Thomas Bjorn and Ernie Els), looms large over the field. While it would seem unlikely for him to be among the leaders as The Open moves into the weekend, there has never been a player with a greater will to win than Tiger—and the Old Course has provided many magical moments through the ages.

One thing is for sure, the 2022 Open at St. Andrews, where much of golf history has been written, promises to be a championship that will be remembered for many years to come.

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