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Shane Lowry Open Championship

The most exciting modern Opens in history

It’s golf’s oldest major but it has seen some incredible renewals in recent history. We look back at some iconic modern Opens

 

It’s the oldest major in golf and there have been some incredible tournaments over the years. It’s why it’s called The Open.

From last year’s 150th, which saw an incredible last round tussle between Cameron Smith and Rory McIlroy, to the epic ‘Duel In The Sun’ between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus in 1977, it has always provided exciting entertainment.

Ahead of this year’s tournament at Royal Liverpool, we look at some of the most exciting and memorable modern Opens in history…

What are the most iconic modern Open Championships?

2022: Smith’s back nine birdie spree secures first major

Last year’s Open Championship was one of the best in recent memory. Cameron Smith came from behind on the final day to beat Cameron Young and Rory McIlroy to win the Claret Jug.

Cameron Smith the open

The Old Course at St Andrews played host to the 150th edition of the championship, which had been pushed back a year. The Old Course was supposed to host the event in 2021, but after the 2020 event was cancelled due to the Covid pandemic, events moved so the 150th edition could be held at the ‘Home of Golf’. The 2022 Open was also the first major tournament following the LIV Golf split which rocked the sport.

Amazingly, the three men that finished in the top three also ended each round inside the top three as well. American Cameron Young, a rookie on the PGA Tour, opened the week with a 64 to lead by two shots after 18 holes. McIlroy ended the day in second after a 66, with Smith T3 after a 67.

The Aussie then fired in a second round 64 to take a two-shot lead at the halfway stage, with Young and McIlroy, along with Norwegian Viktor Hovland, in close company. Hovland and McIlroy then shared the lead at 16-under-par with 18 holes to play – the pair four clear of the two Camerons.

However, an incredible final round 64 from Smith, the lowest final round score by a winner at St Andrews, saw him win by a single shot. He was helped by an incredible putt on the ‘Road Hole’, which saw him take a one-shot lead down the last.

Young eagled the 72nd hole to finish a shot back, while McIlroy, who had started the day four clear of Smith, could only manage two birdies all day, ending the week in 3rd place.

Following the victory, Smith would go on to join LIV Golf.

2019: Lowry delights home fans In Open’s return to Northern Ireland

open championship playoff format

For the first time in 68 years, the Open Championship returned to Northern Ireland. Shane Lowry’s victory sparked incredible celebrations in front of adoring fans.

The Irishman shot back-to-back rounds of 67 to hold the joint lead at the end of the second round. He was alongside American JB Holmes at the top at the halfway stage.

Lowry then firing a third round 63 – a new course record on the remodelled Royal Portrush after its changes in 2016. That put him in pole position to win a first major title, with a four-shot lead going into the final day. However, he had held the same advantage going into the final day of the US Open three years earlier – only for it to slip away.

There would be no repeat, as Lowry was calm and composed in inclement conditions on Sunday. Tee times were moved forward due to the weather to make sure play was completed and the Irishman’s level-par round of 72 was than enough. He won by six from England’s Tommy Fleetwood.

2016: Stenson and Mickelson lap the field At Royal Troon

Sweden’s Henrik Stenson prevailed following an incredible toe-to-toe final round battle with Phil Mickelson at Royal Troon.

Widely known as one of the best final round battles in major championship history, Stenson and Mickelson pushed each other towards greatness.

After six holes, the pair were nine clear of the field. Tied with five to play, the Swede birdied four of the final five holes to break free of Mickelson. Stenson shot 63 to Mickelson’s 65.

He finished at 20-under-par, breaking the record set by Tiger Woods at the 2000 Open Championship, and tying the major low scoring round.

His total of 264 also set a new major record.

2014: Rory goes wire-to-wire at Hoylake

Rory McIlroy became just the sixth player in Open history to go wire-to-wire at Royal Liverpool.

An opening round of 66 put the Northern Irishman into the lead and, after another, he had a four-shot lead at the halfway stage. That became six with a round to go as McIlroy sat at 16-under. Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson were the nearest challengers.

McIlroy played cautiously on the final day, as Fowler and Garcia tried to make a run. Four birdies and three bogeys came in a final round of 71 as McIlroy won by two and claimed his third major. He’d add another at the PGA Championship just weeks later.

2000: Woods dominates St Andrews on way to ‘Tiger Slam’

Coming into the 2000 Open, Tiger Woods already had four majors to his name but was yet to put his name on the Claret Jug. That all changed at St Andrews as the American dominated the field to win by eight and completed the career grand slam.

An opening round 67 saw him sit in a tie for second behind South Africa’s Ernie Els after 18 holes.

But from there, it never looked like Woods would be defeated. He led by three at the halfway stage, before extending that lead to six prior to the final round on Sunday.

No-one got near Woods on the final day, as he shot a three-under-par round of 69 to win the title with four sub-70 rounds of golf. He eventually won the title by eight shots from Els and Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn, in one of the most dominant Open Championship victories in history.

With the victory, Woods set all sorts of records. He became the youngest player in the history of the game to have won the four majors.

The victory was also the second step in his iconic ‘Tiger Slam’. He had already won the US Open earlier that year, and would go on to win the PGA Championship a month later. Victory at the Masters in 2001 meant Woods became the first and, to date, the only man to hold all four major titles at once.

1984: Ballesteros produces iconic fist pump

Seve Ballesteros gave the sport with one of its most iconic celebrations at St Andrews. Who hasn’t seen the picture of THAT fist pump.

After shooting 69-68 over the opening two rounds, the Spaniard was three back of Australian Ian Baker-Finch.

Tom Watson joined the party after the third round, with he and Baker-Finch remaining two clear of Ballesteros – now in a tie for third with Bernhard Langer.

But Seve would go on to win by two – and his birdie on the famous Home hole at St Andrews led to one of the sport’s most famous celebrations.

1977: ‘Duel In The Sun’

Perhaps the most famous modern Open came in 1977 as Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus battle at Turnberry now immortalised as the ‘Duel In The Sun’.

Tied at the top after the third round, they had both shot the same scores over the first three rounds, shooting 68-70-65 to sit at three clear of the field.

The pair played some incredible golf on the final day, and were still tied with three holes to play at 10-under. It came down to Watson’s birdie on 17, which put him one clear going down the last.

although Nicklaus made a miraculous up and down on the 18th hole to make birdie, Watson matched the Golden Bear and won by a single shot. They were ten shots clear of the next nearest challenger.

1972: Trevino Overcomes Nicklaus and Jacklin

Jack Nicklaus had won the last three majors and was coming into the 1972 Open with the hope of becoming the first man to hold all four major titles at once. But he was six back going into the final round.

Lee Trevino held one shot lead over Tony Jacklin as he aimed to defend the title. A final round of 66 from the ‘Golden Bear’ put him in a great position but Trevino had other ideas.

Trevino and Jacklin were tied coming down 17 but the American was in all kinds of trouble. Over the back of green, though, he chipped in to save par.

Jacklin, in shock, three-putted and Trevino parred the last to win by one.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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