There is no golf tournament in the world with the Open’s combination of history, prestige and importance. It is the oldest tournament in golf having been first held way back in 1860, since when the best golfers in the world have competed at the finest links golf courses in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Open is unique in many ways and its exclusive use of coastal links courses is one of the most interesting.
True links golf courses are supposed to replicate the conditions and basic challenge posed when golf was first played in Scotland way back in the 15th century. The difficulty of links golf is largely dependent on the weather and this adds a level of unpredictability and excitement to the Open, which is already one of the jewels in the crown of the British sporting calendar.
A key highlight of the UK summer of sport, the Open, sometimes referred to as the British Open, typically takes place in the third week of July. Since 2019 it has become the last (chronologically) of the year’s majors and why not save the best till last?
|2022||St Andrews||Cameron Smith|
|2021||Royal St. George’s||Collin Morikawa|
|2019||Royal Portrush||Shane Lowry|
|2017||Royal Birkdale||Jordan Spieth|
2022: Cameron Smith
The British fans who flocked to St Andrews in their thousands were primed for the perfect finish to the 2022 Open Championship. The vast majority of those packed around the fairways of the Old Course were desperately hoping that Rory McIlroy could convert the 54-hole lead he shared with Viktor Hovland on Sunday but it was to be yet more major championship heartbreak for McIlroy and his fans as Cameron Smith capped off an incredible year with his first major win.
Smith looked to have blown his chances of winning the Open on Saturday. The Australian is a very aggressive golfer and his decision making got him in a world of trouble during his third round. That left Smith with a four-shot deficit between himself and the leaders on Sunday but a phenomenal display of ball striking and putting saw him reel off birdie after birdie.
While Smith was applying the pressure, McIlroy narrowly missed a series of putts. As McIlroy kept failing to take advantage of the easier holes on the Old Course, Smith kept making putts, saving the best for the 17th hole with an up and down on the Road Hole after missing the green short. McIlroy tried in vain to force a grandstand finish but it wasn’t to be and it was Smith, a fully deserved winner, who took the Claret Jug home with him.
2021: Collin Morikawa
Golf fans have known that Collin Morikawa is something special for some time. He became only the fourth 23 year old after Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Rory McIlroy to win the PGA Championship, doing so on his tournament debut last year. Taking such a big step forwards at such a young age allowed Morikawa to adjust his goals in the shorter term and he went into his debut at the Open Championship with much loftier ambitions than simply making up the numbers. He did not, however, expect to be named the Champion Golfer of the Year at Royal St George’s.
Morikawa wasn’t even the bookies’ favourite to win the 149th Open when he began his final round. That billing went to Louis Oosthuizen who once again found himself bang in contention in a major championship. The 2010 Open champion could not make his links golf experience count though and he struggled for his best golf just when he needed it most. In contrast, Morikawa thrived and soon usurped Oosthuizen. In the end, it was Jordan Spieth who finished closest to his fellow American but the 2017 Open Champion was four shots adrift when the final putt dropped.
“The Open Championship is going to be part of my life the rest of my life no matter what happens,” Morikawa said after lifting the Claret Jug. He added, “At 24 years old it’s so hard to look back at the two short years that I have been a pro and see what I’ve done because I want more.” His incredible golf game and ability to hold it together under severe pressure suggests there will be many more majors in Morikawa’s future.
The 2020 tournament was cancelled.
2019: Shane Lowry
The Open return to Northern Ireland in 2019, the first time since 1951. The best golfers in the world strutting their stuff in front of thousands of fans at Royal Portrush was always going to make this a special week but it was capped off with a fairy tale ending as Shane Lowry became the first Irish Open Champion since Padraig Harrington’s pair of wins in 2007 and 2008.
Lowry wasted no time launching his challenge for the Claret Jug. Scoring was not easy on the opening day but Lowry ended up just one off the pace set by J. B. Holmes who went round in 66, five shots under par. By the end of day two, Lowry was level with Holmes at -8 providing the fans with consolation after Rory McIlroy missed the cut, seemingly crushed by the weight of expectation of playing the Open in his home nation. McIlroy’s failure was a disappointment for many fans but he has rarely managed to produce his best golf in Ireland.
It was Saturday where Lowry separated himself from the rest of the field. He played as well as we’d ever seen him during a round of 63 which saw him end round three with a four shot lead over Tommy Fleetwood. That sort of scoring was impossible on a very testing Sunday where Lowry’s round of +1 saw him actually increase his lead by two shots to Fleetwood. After holding it all together on that final 18 holes, Lowry allowed himself to celebrate with his caddie Bo Martin after his final approach shot and before completing the job on the green. Fleetwood finished alone in second spot, with Tony Finau third. In total there were six golfers from the British Isles in a tie for sixth or better in what was a good event for the home players.
2018: Francesco Molinari
There is a great photo from the 2006 Masters of Edoardo Molinari and his brother and caddie Francesco, plotting their next shot at Augusta National. Francesco was already a European Tour golfer at that point so his decision to caddie for his brother shows an admirable desire to learn everything he can. That attitude paid off quickly as Francesco won his maiden European Tour title in May of 2006 and then again in 2018 when the vast amount of work he had put into his game in the years previous paid off with his first major championship in the Open Championship at Carnoustie.
Molinari arrived at Carnoustie in the form of his life. His run of form coming into the tournament saw him win two and finish second twice in his five events before the Open. But he had to be at his very best to hold off the challenge of a host of big names on the final day in Scotland. Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Molinari’s playing partner Tiger Woods all threatened the winner even if defending champion Jordan Spieth’s challenge fell apart after he found Hogan’s Alley.
Every Open venue is supposed to test every aspect of the game in order to crown the Champion Golfer of the Year. That was very much true at Carnoustie with Molinari only able to become the first Italian winner of the Open thanks to the extra distance he was hitting the ball combined with his usual top class ball striking, faultless putting and an incredible mental strength. This year was undoubtedly his best in the sport, this win and his preceding fine run of form seeing him move into the top 10 in the world rankings.
2017: Jordan Spieth
“Go get that!” Those words, uttered by Jordan Spieth to his caddie Michael Geller as he pointed towards the 15th hole at Royal Birkdale, will be the abiding memory of the 2017 Open. Spieth had just drained an eagle putt from 48 feet to land a crushing blow on his playing partner, Matt Kuchar, in the battle for the 146th Open Championship.
That putt came just two holes after the wildest of wild drives threatened to derail a final round that was beginning to look like a procession. Spieth’s tee shot on the 13th must have been 100 yards right of the fairway and when he got up to his ball he decided to take a drop for an unplayable lie. That entitled him to take line of sight relief and he made the decision to move even further away from the hole, eventually hitting his approach shot from the practice area. Five was the best he could have made from that tee shot but it was not his first bogey of the day, he was three over par for his front nine after four bogeys and a birdie.
It looked as though the Open was getting away from Spieth as Kuchar loomed large but the events of 13 shook him out of his slumber. Spieth bounced back immediately with a birdie on 14 before that iconic eagle on 15. Two more birdies followed on 16 and 17, allowing Spieth the chance to take in the cheers of the galleries as he walked up the 18th hole to become the youngest American to win the Open. This was his third major after a brilliant 2015 when he won two. It hasn’t been all plain sailing for him since and some tough years have followed but this was a superb show of resilience at a time when the Open could easily have got away from him.