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My 10 Favourite Open Moments

By: | Mon 12 Jul 2021 | Comments

THE OPEN Championship is part of the fabric of my life, and has been for as long as I can remember. I love the build-up. I love hearing the players bleating about the course before a shot has been struck in anger. I love the fact that we never know what the weather is going to do. Will the sun shine for four days? Will the wind blow? Will the rain come pouring down? 

I have been fortunate enough to have attended many Opens. They have all been special, but here I want to share 10 of my favourite Open memories with you. 

Jack Nicklaus, St Andrews 1970 

The first Open that I witnessed in the flesh was at St Andrews in 1970. As a youngster I quite clearly remember watching Doug Sanders on the final green, standing over that tiny putt to win and when he bent down to remove an imaginary piece of grass I just knew that he was going to miss. But my abiding memory of that tournament came at the 18-hole in playoff the following day. Standing on the 18th tee, Jack Nicklaus removed his jersey and drove the ball through the back of the green - a distance of 380 yards. After he holed the winning putt he threw his putter up in the air and as it came back to earth it very nearly decapitated Sanders. 

Lee Trevino, Muirfield 1972

The greatest display of shotmaking that I ever witnessed came not on the course but on the practice ground at Muirfield in 1972. It came from Lee Trevino. Back then players turned up with their own practice balls. Trevino’s caddie was Willie Aitchison, who arrived on the range with Trevino wearing a baseball mitt. He trudged out to a distance of about 120 yards and, as Trevino began hitting wedges, Aitchison stood in the middle of the range catching Trevino’s golf balls. The American, who would go on to win The Open that year, worked his way through the bag and, as he did so, his caddie moved back, continuing to catch the balls before they landed. Eventually Trevino moved on to a three wood and driver. I remember watching open-mouthed as Aitchison continued to move back, catching the balls after they had bounced once. Trevino went right through the golf bag, hitting everything with a huge slice. And Aitchison never once had to move more than three feet to catch the ball. It was astonishing.

Tom Watson, Turnberry 1977 

Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus went at it hammer and tongs for four days in glorious weather at Turnberry. They made birdies for fun, producing one world-class shot after another, leaving the rest of the field trailing in their wake. They came to the final hole with Watson holding a one-stroke lead. Nicklaus found a dreadful lie with his drive and gouged it out, finding the front of the putting surface. Watson hit another glorious approach to three feet. Somehow, it was inevitable that Nicklaus would hole his putt and he brought the house down by doing precisely that. With cheers still ringing around the 18th green, Watson made his own birdie to finish on 268, beating the Golden Bear by a shot. Hubert Green finished third - 10 shots behind Nicklaus.

Costantino Rocca, St Andrews 1995

I was standing beside the 18th green on the final day when Italy’s Costantino Rocca approached his ball, knowing that he needed a birdie to force a playoff with John Daly. Rocca then proceeded to duff his chip in a manner that would have embarrassed even an 18-handicapper. His chance had gone. But what happened next defied belief. Rocca reached for his putter and sent the ball off on its rollercoaster journey down and through the Valley of Sin and up towards the hole. When it was about six feet from the cup I just knew that it was going to drop. And the when it did so the roar was deafening. Rocca fell to the ground, beating the turf. Sadly, that was as good as it good. He had nothing left when it came to the playoff. But it was a moment that everybody who witnessed it will remember for the rest of their lives.

Paul Lawrie, Carnoustie 1999

For gut-wrenching drama, nothing comes close to Carnoustie in 1999. Scotland’s Paul Lawrie began the final day 10 shots behind 54-hole leader Jean Van de Velde. On a tough day on a brutal golf course, Lawrie fired a magnificent round of 67. But it didn’t look like it was going to be anywhere good enough. And then Van de Velde began to fritter shots away. He came to the final hole requiring a double-bogey six to lift the Claret Jug. He took seven blows after hacking his way all over the 18th, even removing his shoes and socks to consider the possibility of playing from the burn. What I most remember about that day was Lawrie’s fabulous approach to the 18th green in the playoff. It was a magnificent golf shot that never left the flag from the moment he struck it. Poor Van de Velde tried to tell us that it was only a round of golf and that nobody had died, but there cannot be a single day that passes that he doesn’t think about about his final-hole meltdown.

Tiger Woods, Muirfield 2002

Woods has achieved many great things at The Open but I want to take you back to the third round at Muirfield in 2002. My abiding memory is of Woods making his only birdie of the day in brutal conditions, raising his arms in triumph, bending over at the waist and sweeping his arms in a theatrical bow before exchanging high five with his playing partner and close friend, Mark O’Meara. Moments later he parred the 18th and signed for a score of 81, the worst of his professional career. He later said: “Those were the hardest conditions I have ever played in, We were not prepared for that weather. Nobody was.” Woods had endured howling winds and pouring rain on a day when 10 players failed to break 80. The following day he bounced back with a 65, but the damage had already been done.

Tiger Woods, Hoylake 2006

This was a Woods masterclass. He only used his driver once during the course of the tournament having decided that the key to winning was to keep the ball in play. So he played lots of irons from the tee and showed the world’s best players how to do it. After holing the winning putt, Woods buried his head in the shoulder of caddie Steve Williams and sobbed uncontrollably, having won his first major since the passing of his father Earl Woods two months earlier. On the way to victory, Woods hit 86% of fairways and became the first man since Tom Watson in 1982-83 to successfully defend the Claret Jug.

Tom Watson Turnberry 2009

Tom Watson returned to the scene of his 1977 triumph, this time aged 59. I followed him for all four rounds as he mounted the most unexpected and unlikely of challenges. He came to the 72nd hole needing a par to win and become the oldest major champion in history. He struck a magnificent shot to the heart of the green but it failed to stop and rolled through the back. I looked on in horror as Watson took three more to get down, finishing tied with fellow American Stewart Cink. I remember the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I just knew that Watson had nothing left in the tank and would duly go on to lose to Cink in the playoff. It was heartbreaking.

Darren Clarke, Royal St George’s 2011

The Northern Irishman had contended several times and had been written off as a genuine contender to finally land his first major but he knew that when he arrived on the Kent coast in 2011 that his game felt in good shape. He opened with a pair of 68s and shared the 36-hole lead. A third-round 69 saw him go into the final round with one-shot lead over Dustin Johnson. And he was five ahead of Phil Mickelson. As Clarke made steady progress on the final day, with your correspondent following his every shot, roars began to ring out as Mickelson started making birdies for fun. When he eagled the seventh, he was tied for the lead. If Clarke was concerned he never once showed it. Playing in his 20th Open, the 42-year-old had established a four-shot lead with four holes to play and could even afford to finish with a couple of dropped shots. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, yours truly included.

Henrik Stenson, Royal Troon 2016

Watching Stenson and Phil Mickelson trading blows in the final round was reminiscent of Watson and Nicklaus at Turnberry in 1977. That Sunday afternoon will live with me forever. Just when you think you have seen everything this game has to offer it has a habit of proving that you haven’t. Stenson led Mickelson by a single shot after 54 holes. Lefty would shoot a final round of 65 - had you offered him that score before a blow had been struck in anger he would have bitten your hand off. The problem was that Stenson shot a 63 to record a scarcely credible 72 hole total of 264, 20 under par, finishing the job with a magnificent birdie putt on the 18th.

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