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The 10 best Open Championship moments of all time

Golf Care, 27th June 2024

open championship moments


The Open is the oldest of the four men’s Majors, dating way back to 1860. This year, we’ll see its 152nd staging as Royal Troon plays host, with Brian Harman the unlikely defending champion.

The legendary Harry Vardon holds the record for the most Open victories, with six, while Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods each have three wins.

In this article, we’ll look at 10 of the most defining Open championship moments in the history of the tournament. So, not necessarily the best shots, but a collection of happenings or rounds that have made the Open arguably the most eagerly-anticipated week of the golfing year.


The 10 best Open Championship moments of all time

open championship moments
The 8th hole at Royal Troon, host of the 2024 Open Championship.

1. Bobby Jones, 1930

Jones is the only player to have won the original Grand Slam, which consisted of the Amateur and Open Championships plus the US Open and US Amateur.

The American amateur, who would retire at just 28, played in four Opens—he withdrew in the first and then won the next three at Lytham, St Andrews, and Royal Liverpool.

Jones went into the final round one shot adrift of Archie Compston, but a closing 75 helped by a brilliant bunker shot at the 16th gave him a two-shot success.

He was the first player since 1890 to win both the Amateur and the Open, and later completed his Grand Slam at the US Amateur at Merion. He would never play in the Open again, but the Masters would get going in 1934 with Jones now a professional.


2. Tony Jacklin, 1969

To provide some context, no Brit had won the Open since 1951 (Max Faulkner), and it took until 1985 for Sandy Lyle to follow in Jacklin’s footsteps after his victory in 1969.

The Scunthorpe golfer would win by two shots from Bob Charles among euphoric scenes at Lytham. At one point, Jacklin led by four in the final round, and despite dropping three shots coming home, he held his nerve to stand on the final tee with a two-shot lead.

He laced his final tee shot—‘what a corker’ came Henry Longhurst’s famous commentary—and lost a shoe as he was mobbed by the fans before two-putting to become a national hero.

Later that year, there was the famous Ryder Cup concession with Jack Nicklaus at Birkdale, and Jacklin would land his second Major the following year at the US Open. 


3. Costantino Rocca, 1995

It takes something special to be remembered so clearly when you haven’t won the tournament.

The Italian needed a birdie to tie John Daly, but his pitch to St Andrews’ 18th was horrific as he chunked it a fraction of the distance. But he then hit one of the sweetest putts through the Old Course’s Valley of Sin to take the American into a play-off.

“I remember on the 18th tee, I said to my caddy: if I put it on the green, I will make two. In my mind, there is no four, only two or three. After, when you see it on TV, you feel what you had around you and I think it was fantastic. To see people jumping on the terrace and the right side of 18 and jumping everywhere,” Rocca remembers.

“That was a nice moment, I became more famous for that putt than if I won the tournament. I’m the most famous runner-up in the world. At St Andrews, you breathe the real air of golf. Every time I come back after that moment, it is emotional.”


4. Seve Ballesteros, 1984

Seve would win three Opens, two of them at Lytham, but it was the victory at the Old Course that always stands out.

With Tom Watson and Bernhard Langer chasing him all the way, the Spaniard would finally make a four at the Road Hole. This left him at 11-under and in the middle of the final fairway, from where he would pitch it to 15 feet of the pin. Then came one of the most iconic celebrations in the history of the sport’—la meti!’ (I put it in!)—which has been copied and enjoyed ever since.

The silhouette of that winning putt would sit on the Ryder Cup team’s clothing and bags at Medinah the year after Seve’s passing in 2011, and the navy blue Slazenger V-neck sweater has similarly been copied ever since. 


5. Jean van de Velde, 1999

What’s often forgotten here is that Paul Lawrie shot a four-under 67 on the Sunday, and Van de Velde got up and down on the three previous holes to give himself a three-shot lead going up the last.

What happened next, though, was the golfing version of a car crash. Supposedly, he thought he only had a two-shot lead, so he went with the driver. He hit a big shove right, which luckily stayed above ground, but his luck then ran out as his 2-iron approach struck the grandstand and ricocheted back beyond the Barry Burn. The next one finished in the water, and from there followed the ridiculous scenes as Van de Velde toyed with playing it.

He advanced it into the sand and somehow got up and down for a strangely brilliant seven. He would shoot a 77, and Lawrie would emerge triumphant in a four-hole play-off, finishing 3-3 in front of his own fans. Van de Velde would win again seven years later in Madeira.


6. Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus, 1977

Even nearly 50 years later, The Duel In The Sun at Turnberry is still regarded as the best head-to-head shoot-out in golf.

The pair led by three after a couple of 65s, and by the end of the Championship, Hubert Green was a distant 10 shots back of Nicklaus in second. This was the first time that Turnberry had staged The Open, and while it doesn’t look like staging an Open any time soon, it is still fondly regarded, with its 18th now named after what happened in 1977.

The beauty of this was that the two titans had the same score in each round up until the Sunday, and they played together over the weekend. To this point, Nicklaus had 14 Majors to his name while Watson had just two, but it would be the younger of the two who would come from behind on that glorious Sunday.

Nicklaus actually led by three early on and by two after 12, but four Watson birdies in the last six holes edged him over the line. Nicklaus would miss a four-footer on 17 but then make a ridiculous three from the edge of a gorse bush at 18, while Watson would slam a mid-iron next to the hole to secure his second of five Claret Jugs.


7. Ben Hogan, 1953

Hogan would only play in one Open but it’s now one of the tournament’s most iconic victories and best Open Championship moments.

The American, who was involved in a near-fatal car crash four years earlier, would play in six tournaments during the 1953 season and win five of them. Two of them would come at the Masters (by five) and the US Open (by six), and he would prevail at Carnoustie by four shots. He wouldn’t get the chance to play in what is now the fourth leg of the Grand Slam, as the two tournaments overlapped with the travel arrangements of the 50s.

Hogan, like the rest of the field, would have to come through 36 holes of qualifying and arrived in Britain two weeks early to get accustomed to the smaller British ball. Hogan would have to get up and down from the sand at 17 to make a double-bogey six in the Friday morning third round, but a birdie at the last would give him a share of the lead with Roberto De Vicenzo.

In the afternoon round, a new course record of 68 sent him well clear, which he signed off with another birdie at the last. In the years to come, the 6th hole would be renamed ‘Hogan’s Alley’ after the champion managed to find the narrow fairway in between the bunker and out of bounds in each of the four rounds.


8. Jack Nicklaus, 2005

After 131 Majors and 18 victories, Nicklaus would sign off in style. It looked for a while like 2000 would be his final Open showing at the Old Course, but a conversation with the chief executive of the R&A soon changed that. 

“I spoke to Peter Dawson at St Andrews in 2000 and asked him when we would be coming back. He said 2006, and I said that was a shame as I would be past my eligibility, which runs until I’m 65. He asked me if it was held in 2005, would I play—and the next thing I see, it’s announced for 2005.”

Nicklaus received a lengthy ovation coming up the last, and a birdie gave him a level-par 72, which saw him miss the cut by two. 

As for the putt on the last, the Golden Bear said: “I knew that the hole would move where I hit it; I always make it on the 18th. I aimed six inches left of the hole, played a six-inch break, hit it, and the ball was going along, and every other putt going that way missed the hole, but this one gobbled it in. It was like Pac-Man.

“When I come in here and say that I shot 72, and it’s the best round I shot this year, and I played well, and I’m missing the cut, you know it’s time to leave. That’s sort of the way I look at it.”


9. Tiger Woods, 2000

Woods’ eight-shot win around the Old Course was his first Open triumph and meant he had completed the career Grand Slam at just 24. He would win by eight—not quite the 15-shot demolition of Pebble Beach the previous month—but he would then complete the Tiger Slam the following April at Augusta.

Day one brought a 67, and he would lead by three after a second-round 66 from David Duval. He made his first bogey of the week on the Saturday at the 2nd, but a barrage of birdies around the turn gave him another 67 and a six-shot cushion. He would end the week somehow without finding a single bunker, and a 69 left him on 19-under. Duval made an early impression on Woods’ lead, but it was to be short-lived.

“It’s the ultimate,” he revealed after picking up the Claret Jug. “It’s ironic that it has all happened in the same year. Having won the US Open and The Open is amazing. I’m fortunate to have achieved this feat so early in my career. I wanted to shoot four straight rounds in the 60s.”

Thomas Bjorn, who tied for second with Ernie Els, added: “It certainly looks like somebody out there is playing golf on a different planet than the rest of us. When he brings his A-game, he’s just different class.”


10. Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson, 2016

We’re back at Troon in 2024, and if it’s anywhere near as exciting as in 2016, then we’re in for a treat. You could say that this is the modern-day version of The Duel In The Sun, although we experienced some less-than-glorious weather in Scotland.

Phil Mickelson lipped out at the last for the first 62 in Major history, and by Saturday night, it was a clear two-horse race. Henrik Stenson led by one from the American and six from Bill Haas. 

The Sunday was a genuine classic with both players trading birdies—Mickelson had four of them and an eagle in a 65, while Stenson had a ridiculous 10. The Swede even had room for a pair of bogeys in his closing 63 to win by three. Three years earlier, he had finished three shots back of Mickelson at Muirfield. JB Holmes was back in third, 11 shots away.

“I knew he wasn’t going to back down at any point, and in a way that makes it easier for myself. I knew I had to keep on pushing, keep on giving myself birdie chances and he wasn’t going to give it to me, so I had to pull away. I’m just delighted I managed to do that with a couple of birdies at the right time on the final stretch.”


The 2024 Open Championship takes place at Royal Troon Golf Club, Scotland, from July 18-21. Will we see any more defining moments to add to this list?


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If you weren’t already looking forward to The Open, you almost certainly will be now, after a trip down memory lane looking back at some of the best Open Championship moments from years gone by.

If you’re feeling inspired to get out there playing—be it in a tournament or just a casual round with friends—you may want to consider protecting yourself and your equipment with specialist golf insurance first.

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