2017 Open Championship: Royal Birkdale produces historically great winners
Royal Birkdale is often called the fairest of all the Open courses because of its flat fairways and wide ranging scores (depending on the weather). I’m not sure if that moniker fits — maybe it does — but this course has unquestionably produced one of the greatest lists of champs from any tournament (major or not) ever.
Not every legend has won here, but there have been some all-time greats who have won historically good tournaments at Birkdale. The only champion who is not (or eventually will be) in the Hall of Fame is 1991 winner Ian Baker-Finch (and he won nearly 20 pro events worldwide in his career).
This year’s event will be the 10th in Birkdale history which ranks behind St. Andrews (29), Prestwick (24), Muirfield (16), Royal St. George’s (14), Royal Liverpool (12) and Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s (11).
Hopefully we get a taste of greatness again in 2017 as the world’s best tee it up on the coast of England for the third major championship of the season. Here is a look at the previous nine Opens here.
Peter Thomson wins first of many (1954): The run that Thomson went on in the 1950s is astounding. He finished in the top 10 at this tournament in 17 of 20 years starting in 1951. In 1954 he won his first Open by defeating a trio of players including Bobby Locke by one at Birkdale. It should be noted that his score that week was 9-under 283 (this course used to be a par 73).
Arnold Palmer wins his first Open (1961): Palmer only had seven top 10s at this tournament, and this was the first of two straight wins for him. Palmer shot 72 on the final day to defeat Dai Rees by one stroke, and he hit one of the great shots in major championship history from a bush on the 15th hole in his final round.
The ball went so fast that the grass was cut as though by a scythe. “I have never hit a ball so hard in my life,” said Palmer later. Henry Cotton, a former British champion who was standing beside Palmer, called it “one of the greatest shots ever.”
There is still a plaque on the hole (now the 16th) to commemorate the shot.
Thomson wins his last (1965): Despite the fact that his run of top 10s was not yet over, this would be Thomson’s last of five Open wins. He took the Claret Jug by two strokes over Christy O’Connor and Brian Huggett.
Lee Trevino nabs his first of two Opens (1971): Trevino would eventually wind up with six majors in his career, but this was his first Open Championship at the 100th edition of the tournament. He won it by one stroke over Lu Liang-Huan, and he would go on to win the next year’s Open at Muirfield by one as well. This time it would be over a more well-known golfer named Jack Nicklaus, though.
Johnny Miller finishes Seve Ballesteros (1976): Two of the great personalities in the history of the sport went heads-up on Sunday for the Jug. Miller closed like closers do, with a 66 to Ballesteros’ 74 and beat Seve and Jack Nicklaus by six each.
“And Seve always told everybody afterwards, ‘All of a sudden (late in the day), Johnny got real friendly,'” Miller told Golfweek recently. “He didn’t talk to me at all for two days, and then all of a sudden he’s rambling in Spanish at me.”
Tom Watson gets his fifth (1983): Hale Irwin whiffed a 2-inch putt at this Open and lost to Watson by a single stroke despite shooting a 67 on Sunday. This was Watson’s fifth and final Open Championship (which makes his run at No. 6 nearly 30 years later even more incredible).
Ian Baker-Finch gets his only major (1991): The Australian beat another Aussie, Mike Hardoow, by two and two Americans, Fred Couples and Mark O’Meara, by three each en route to his only major championship win. After opening with 71-71, Baker-Finch closed with 64-66 to take the Claret Jug home.
Mark O’Meara wins Masters and Open in same year (1998): O’Meara beat Brian Watts by two strokes in a four-hole playoff that Tiger Woods finished one shot short of. The big story this week was 17-year-old Justin Rose contending (and briefly leading) as an amateur. He would turn pro the next week and miss 21 straight cuts.
“I wish I could remember exactly how loud it was,” Rose once told The Telegraph. “I went completely numb when that ball went in. It was a pretty special ending, you couldn’t have written it any more dramatically.
Padraig Harrington wins two straight Opens (2008): Harrington touched off Sergio Garcia in a playoff the year before, but this one was over far earlier. Harrington made an eagle at the par-5 17th and got to enjoy his stroll up the 18th as a two-time Open champ. He beat Ian Poulter by four and 54-hole leader Greg Norman (!) by six.