The 150th Open at St Andrews: The 10 greatest championship moments on The Old Course

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Can you imagine heading back to 1860 and telling the folk organising, competing in and watching the first Open what it would have become in its 150th edition?! Just eight golfers played in that first championship, contesting it on a 12-hole layout at Prestwick of 3,799 yards. Willie Park Sr. won shooting 55-59-60 for a 174 total. Last man William Steel lurched home in 232 blows. A year later amateurs were permitted to play, in 1863 a prize fund of £10 was introduced, the Claret Jug replaced the championship belt as the trophy in the 1870s, and as the tournament grew so did the rota of courses visited. This year? The field will be 156, but thousands have effectively entered, possibly tens of thousands if you factor in the various qualifiers. The Old Course, first played in 1873, saw the first winner total 179 over two rounds, a number that would never get close to making the cut this week.

The Claret Jug remains the prize, but the money that goes with it is now extraordinary: last year's winner Collin Morikawa banked $11.5 million.

Let's take a look at the greatest moments The Old Course has witnessed when it has hosted the Open.

10. Bob Martin wins amid controversy, 1876

The Open of the 19th century was almost unrecognisable. The Old Course's first championship in 1873 was the first to be played on an 18-hole course and Tom Kidd won carding 91-88. Three years later there was utter chaos, partly a consequence of the championship taking place while R&A members hacked around at the same time. Davie Straith and Bob Martin were tied on 176, with the former having flattened one onlooker and, when he clattered his ball into another on the 17th, it provoked a ruling controversy. Straith was so incensed he refused to contest the play-off, Martin walked the 18 holes and was crowned the winner.

9. Sam Snead makes a loss, 1946

The great Sam Snead had first played the Open in 1937 but the expense of the trip and the Second World War kept him away for another nine years. He rocked up to St Andrews for the first time, peered out of the train window, took in the view, and said: "Say, that looks like an abandoned golf course." He made a slow start but crept up the leaderboard, won by four shots, earned £150, and made a loss on the trip.

8. Palmer revives the Open, 1960

The Opens of the 1950s were dominated by Peter Thomson and Bobby Locke, links experts both but aided by the presence of very few Americans who were put off either by the money problems faced by Snead or a simple lack of interest. As he changed so much else in the sport, Arnold Palmer transformed that situation, starting with his visit in 1960, the 100th anniversary of the Open. He finished second and would go on to win in both 1961 and 1962.

7. Faldo vs Norman, 1990

The Nick Faldo/Greg Norman final round head-to-head at Augusta National in 1996 has understandably never been forgotten, but three years earlier their third round pairing on The Old Course was hyped by all the British newspapers. They were both 12-under through 36 holes, four shots clear of Craig Parry and Payne Stewart, and a repeat of the famous Duel in the Sun of the 1977 Open was predicted. The set up was perfect: Norman was the World No. 1, Faldo the more ruthless Major Championship operator; Norman blond with film star looks, Faldo dark-haired and socially awkward. "It should be interesting, to say the least," said Norman, whereupon he carded a 76, nine blows more than eventual winner Faldo needed. The Australian's caddie, Steve Williams, is reputed to have decided he needed to find another bag after Norman ended Saturday saying, "I guess, Steve, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good."

6. Tiger goes bunker-free, 2000

Tiger Woods won the Open twice at The Old Course, but his first triumph in 2000 was special.

Just weeks before he had won the US Open by 15 shots, weeks later he would add the PGA Championship, and in April of 2001 he completed the Tiger Slam with victory in the Masters. His triumph in the Open, the third step of that success, was more one-way traffic. He avoided all of The Old Course's 112 bunkers throughout the week in completing an eight shot destruction of the field.

5. The Great Triumvirate go 1-2-3, 1900

The famed Great Triumvirate dominated the Open from 1894 winning 16 of 21 championships but the opening championship of the 20th century was the first time they claimed the top three places on the leaderboard. James Braid was third, Harry Vardon second and JH Taylor won, finishing eight blows clear, the only player in the field to break 80 in all four rounds.

4. The Sands of Nakajima, 1978

Tsuneyuki, better known as Tommy, Nakajima was 23-years-old in 1978, a superstar in his home country Japan, and most famous heading into that year's Open as the man who had taken 13 on the 13th hole at Augusta National that April. Heading to the Road Hole (the 17th) in the third round, Nakajima was 3-under for the week and two back of the eventual 54-hole lead. He also found the green in two blows. It was only then that everything went horribly wrong. His timid first putt was swept into the famous bunker, his first three attempts to escape returned to the sand, and his caddie was holding his head in his hands when the ball finally found the putting surface, whereupon Nakajima three-putted.

3. Doug Sanders wobbles, 1970

Eight years before Nakajima's self-destruction Doug Sanders had saved par from the Road Hole Bunker in the final round to lead by one heading up the last. When his drive rattled down the fairway, leaving him just 74 yards to the pin, it seemed implausible that he'd lose. But, dressed in honour of a pink highlighter pen, he needed four more blows and his par putt has gone down in golfing history as Major Championship golf's worst missed tiddler. Sanders never looked settled, stepped away to waft an obstruction, and then hit his short putt for the win so unconvincingly that he'd given up on it himself even before it had got close to the hole.

Next day Jack Nicklaus bested him in an 18-hole play-off.

2. Costantino Rocca's redemption, 1995

The final round of the 1995 Open was played in difficult conditions and John Daly's 71 set a clubhouse target of 6-under that left the final pair, pre-round leader Michael Campbell and Costantino Rocca, needing eagle and birdie respectively to match him. After two decent drives, Rocca played his second first and duffed a chip into the Valley of Sin, the swale at the front of the putting surface. After Campbell missed his eagle attempt Rocca, to the astonishment of the watching world, drained his 65-foot putt for the birdie and promptly fell to the floor, pounding the turf in delight while the onlooking and stony-faced Daly turned away from his wife to prepare for a play-off that proved to be a damp squib.

Rocca was emotionally spent and never in it.

The bizarre conclusion was brilliantly captured by the cameras (see above): a naked man with 19th hole written on his back and an arrow pointing at his bottom, chased by a man in a Pringle sweater, the pair of them chased by a copper, with a still-stony-faced and mullet-headed Daly apparently reluctant about the incoming hug of his track-suited wife. Exactly what the R&A dreams of.

1. Seve's fist pump, 1984

Not so much an epic Old Course moment or even an epic Open moment. When Severiano Ballesteros drained his curving birdie putt at the 18th hole in the final round of the 1984 championship his celebration was an epic moment in European golf. The glory was all his that afternoon, but in the 1970s, 80s and 90s the Spaniard was like a revolutionary leader of the European Tour and in that moment it was like he was stood on the balcony celebrating a successful battle. The brooding looks, the dark eyes, the mop of black hair. The style, the charisma, the inspiration. It was all there in that burst of delighted energy, the wide smile, the shuddering forearm and fist as he thrust it towards his ardent followers. It was dashing, magnificent and remains etched in the thoughts of every European golfer, even those born long after it actually happened.

The article The 150th Open at St Andrews: The 10 greatest championship moments on The Old Course appeared first on Planetsport.com.

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