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What was the most memorable Open Championship playoff?

The Open Championship has been decided by a playoff on numerous occasions, but which was the best?

 

The Open Championship, the oldest major first played in 1860, has had many close encounters throughout the years resulting in a number of playoffs.

There have been 21 playoffs in the history of The Open Championship. The first was in 1883 when Bob Martin beat Davie Strath at St Andrews.

The most recent one was also at the home of golf when Zach Johnson overcame Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman to win his second major trophy.

It is always a nail-biting, tense affair when extra holes are needed to determine who becomes the Champion Golfer of the Year.

The fans stick around for an hour or so more to watch the drama unfold before the ceremony takes place on the 18th green.

Open Championship playoff format

For over 100 years, from 1860-1964, any ties for the lead after the final round would see those players take part in a 36-hole aggregate playoff.

In 1964 the playoff was reduced to 18 holes, similar to the US Open, and this stayed in play until 1985 when the, now used, four-hole aggregate playoff format was introduced.

So here are the most memorable Open playoffs:

1963 Bob Charles vs Phil Rodgers

The 1963 Open Championship was the final year that The Open would have a 36-hole playoff, this was changed the following year to 18-hole playoffs.

Royal Lytham and St. Annes hosted The Open that year and the 36-hole playoff was contested on Saturday, July 13 between New Zealander Bob Charles and the American Phil Rodgers with Charles becoming victorious by 8 strokes (69-71) compared to Rodgers (72-76).

The New Zealander became the first left-handed golfer to win a major championship.

1975 Tom Watson vs Jack Newton

American Tom Watson won the first of his eight major titles at Carnoustie by defeating Australian Jack Newton in an 18-hole playoff.

Watson took an early two-shot lead after three holes thanks to a birdie at the 2nd and a dropped shot by Newton at the 3rd hole. However, after a close following nine holes, it was the Australian who held a slim one-shot lead with just six holes to play.

Newton surrendered his one-shot lead instantly with a bogey at the 13th and after a chip-in eagle for Watson at the short par-5 14th it was the American who now held the one-shot lead with four to play.

Watson dropped back a shot to leave things all tied up stood on the 18th tee. After Newton missed the green and failed to get up and down, it left Watson needing just two putts to win his first Open Championship. 

The 1975 Open was to be the final Open to use the 18-hole playoff because in 1985 the format changed to a four-hole aggregate playoff.

open championship play-off

ALSO: Is it the British Open or The Open?

1989 Marc Calcavecchia vs Greg Norman vs Wayne Grady

Royal Troon hosted the 1989 Open Championship and was the first Open to use the four-hole aggregate playoff between American Marc Calcavecchia and Australians Greg Norman and Wayne Grady. Calcavecchia (-2) won the playoff by three shots over Grady (+1).

Norman did hold a one-shot lead over Calcavecchia in the playoff after birdieing the first two holes but a bogey on the difficult par-3 17th at Troon left him tied with the American going down the 18th – the fourth and final playoff hole.

After Norman found a bunker on the tee, he put his third shot out of bounds long of the 18th green to put himself out of the running leaving Calcavecchia to par the hole and win his first Open Championship.

There was a small consolation for Norman, when he had earlier in the day shot a new course record 64 to make it into the playoff.

open championship play-off

2009 Stewart Cink vs Tom Watson

59-year-old Tom Watson had the chance, in 2009 at Turnberry Golf Resort, to become the oldest Open champion and major winner and become the second six-time Open Champion, after Harry Vardon some 100 years earlier. The win would have been more than 30 years after his first.

He needed a par on the 72nd hole to win outright but after his second shot went through the back of the green and he didn’t get up and down, it sent him and fellow American Stewart Cink into a four-hole aggregate playoff.

The holes in use would be the 5th, 6th, 17th and 18th. Cink held a one-shot lead through the first two playoff holes after a bogey at the first hole by Watson.

Then on the par-5 17th, Watson hit a poor shot meaning he had to lay up and was unable to reach in three. When he got on in four shots, he three-putted for a double-bogey seven and Cink birdied the hole to take a four-shot lead into the final hole.

A closing birdie for Cink after hitting his approach shot inside six feet sealed the win and his first major championship.

NOW READ: Amateur performances that stunned The Open

Tell us your favourite Open Championship playoff memory on X, formerly Twitter!

Matt Chivers

Matt Chivers

Now on the wrong side of 25, Matt has been playing golf since the age of 13 and was largely inspired to take up the game by countless family members who played golf during his childhood.

Matt is a member at Royal Cinque Ports in Deal playing off a 5 handicap, just a pitching wedge away from his hometown of Dover where he went to school and grew up. He has previously been a member at Etchinghill and Walmer and Kingsdown in Kent.

Having studied history at the University of Liverpool, Matt went on to pass his NCTJ Exams in Manchester a year later to fulfil his lifelong ambition of becoming a journalist. He picked up work experience along the way at places such as the Racing Post, the Independent, Sportsbeat and the Lancashire Evening Post.

Matt joined NCG in February 2023 and is the website’s main source of tour news, features and opinion. He has reported live from events such as The Open, the Ryder Cup and The Players Championship, having also interviewed and spoken to the likes of Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood, Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Henrik Stenson, to name just a few.

Consuming tour golf on what is a 24/7 basis, you can come to Matt for informed views on the game and the latest updates on the PGA Tour, DP World Tour, LPGA Tour, Ladies European Tour and LIV Golf.

What’s in Matt’s bag: Cobra LTDx LS driver, Cobra LTDx 3-wood, TaylorMade P7MC irons, Ping Glide 4.0 wedges, Odyssey putter.

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