History a big part of British Open

Posted: July 18, 2012

AT THIS championship, history is almost everything.

Lytham has produced a string of illustrious global winners, beginning in 1926 with Robert Tyre Jones III. And it wasn't just that he did it, but the way he made it happen.

He came to the next-to-last hole tied with playing partner and fellow American Al Watrous, who had led by two three holes earlier. With Watrous on the green in two, Jones faced a shot of some 170 yards from a flat lie in a bunker over nothing but gorse and scrub. So he hit a niblick, or the equivalent of a modern-day 8 or 9 iron, onto the middle of the putting surface. Watrous proceeded to three-putt. Jones got down in two and parred the 72nd for a two-stroke victory.

It was the only time that Jones and 11-time major winner Walter Hagen, who finished four back, competed in the same championship in the British Isles.

The club Jones used for that shot hangs in the Lytham clubhouse, and a plaque commemorating the stroke marks the spot.

It took 26 years for the Open to return to Lytham. And when it did, another all-timer took home the claret jug. This time it was South African Bobby Locke, who won for the third time in 4 years, something only Harry Vardon (1896-99) and James Braid (1905-08) had ever done before. Five years later, he would get his fourth and last. Locke won by one over Australia's Peter Thomson, who closed with a birdie and would soon dominate this major. Fred Daly, the 1947 winner, ended up two back, while three-time champ Henry Cotton (1934, '37 and '48)was a distant fourth. And then there was 50-year-old Gene Sarazen, your 1932 winner, tying for 17th.

In 1958, it was Thomson's turn, as he won for the fourth time in 5 years. He would make it an even handful in 1965. But this time he needed a 36-hole playoff, which he took by four over Dave Thomas of Wales. Locke, the defending champ, finished 16th. In the final round, both Thomson and his close friend Thomas, playing in the last group, missed good birdie chances at the 72nd hole. The playoff wasn't nearly as dramatic. It capped a 7-year run in which Thomson also had three runners-up, something that will probably never be matched.

Five years later, Bob Charles became the first New Zealander and the first lefthander to win a major. It would be the only one of his career. Again, a playoff was necessary, with Phil Rodgers, who like Charles finished one ahead of Jack Nicklaus. Their 277 scores were one off the Open record set a year before by Arnold Palmer. This was the last time a 36-hole playoff was used. Charles 1-putted 11 times in the morning round, to go ahead by three. Rodgers closed the gap to one, but ended with an afternoon 76 and lost by eight. It took 40 years for another lefty (Mike Weir, Masters) to win a major. And now, thanks to Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson, it's no longer a rarity.

In 1969, England's Tony Jacklin became the first Brit to win this thing in 18 years, beating Charles by two, Thomsom and 1967 champ Roberto de Vicenzo by three. Needless to say, it was a rather popular victory. And it served as a catalyst, for a new era in Great Britain and Europe (see Ryder Cup).

In 1974, South Africa's Gary Player got his third Open and eighth major, by four over Peter Oosterhuis, 3 months after winning his second Masters. He would add his ninth and last major 4 years later with his third green jacket at Augusta. Player, even with a third-round 75, was the only player to finish under par (282). On the last hole, he did have to putt his ball lefthanded after it went over the green and ended up inches from the clubhouse.

The next two times Lytham hosted, the stage belonged to Spaniard Severiano Ballesteros. In 1979, 3 years after he'd finished a distant runner-up to Johnny Miller as a 19-year-old, he got the first of his three Opens and five majors (two Masters), despite the fact that he couldn't seem to find a fairway. He won by three anyway, over Ben Crenshaw and Nicklaus, after third-round leader Hale Irwin fell out of contention with a 78. The clinching shot came on 16, when the swashbuckling Spaniard hit it into a parking lot, took a drop and knocked a wedge to within 15 feet for a birdie. He played the last seven holes in 1-under without being in the fairway once. Nine years later, Seve did it again, for the final time in a major, with a closing 65 to overtake Nick Price (69) by two. Only Greg Norman's 64 in 1993 was a better closing kick by an Open winner. Seve sealed it with a chip to within kick-in range at the last. For the first time in 117 Opens over 128 years, there was play on Monday because of rain on Saturday. And you know it has to come down pretty serious to cancel anything in those parts.

The last two times, Americans have had their way. In 1996, Tom Lehman, after finishing second in the U.S. Open, finally got what would be his lone major, by two over Ernie Els and Mark McCumber, who closed with 67 and 66, respectively. Lehman's 54-hole 198 set a record, so all he needed on Sunday was a 73 to hold off the posse. Tiger Woods finished 3-over in his first Open, but his second-round 66 matched an amateur mark for any round established in 1950 by Frank Stranahan. Eleven years ago, David Duval shed the proverbial label of best player never to have won a major, by getting what so far remains his only one. The former top-ranked guy on the food chain found himself in a four-way tie at the top after three rounds with Alex Cejka, Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam. Duval followed a 65 on Saturday with a closing 67, to finish three clear of Niclas Fasth (who matched Duval's score). Woosnam birdied the first hole only to discover that there were 15 clubs, or one too many, in his bag. Oops. The penalty cost him two strokes. Woosie tied for fourth with five others, after a 71. Two weeks later, the Wee Welshman fired the caddie after he failed to show up for an event.

So what will Lytham give us this time? If the past is any indication, most likely a somebody. Or at least a somebody-to-be.

Contact Mike Kern at kernm@phillynews.com.

British Open Agenda

What: British Open

When: Thursday-Sunday

Where: Royal Lytham and St. Annes, England

The Course

No. 1 - par 3, 206 yards

No. 2 - par 4, 481 yards

No. 3 - par 4, 477 yards

No. 4 - par 4, 391 yards

No. 5 - par 3, 218 yards

No. 6 - par 4, 494 yards

No. 7 - par 5, 589 yards

No. 8 - par 4, 417 yards

No. 9 - par 3, 164 yards

Out - par 34, 3,437 yards

No. 10 - par 4, 385 yards

No. 11 - par 5, 601 yards

No. 12 - par 3, 196 yards

No. 13 - par 4, 357 yards

No. 14 - par 4, 443 yards

No. 15 - par 4, 464 yards

No. 16 - par 4, 358 yards

No. 17 - par 4, 467 yards

No. 18 - par 4, 410 yards

In - par 36, 3,691 yards

Total - par 70, 7,118 yards

According to RoyalLytham.org

TV schedule

Thursday and Friday: ESPN, 5 a.m.-3 p.m.

Saturday: ESPN, 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Sunday: ESPN, 8 a.m.-1:30 p.m. (or in the event of a playoff, which begins immediately, until conclusion).

Future venues

2013: Muirfield, East Lothian, Scotland 

2014: Royal Liverpool (Hoylake), Cheshire, England

2015: St. Andrews (Old Course), Fife, Scotland

Last five winners

2007: Padraig Harrington, Carnoustie

2008: Padraig Harrington, Royal Birkdale

2009: Stewart Cink, Turnberry

2010: Louis Oosthuizen, St. Andrews

2011: Darren Clarke, Royal St. George's

Remaining majors

PGA Championship: Aug. 9-12, Ocean Course, Kiawah (S.C.) Island

Ryder Cup Matches: Sept. 28-30, Medinah (Ill.) Country Club

Layout of the Royal Lytham & St. Annes Course

ROYAL LYTHAM & St. Annes is the most northerly of the championship English layouts on the Open rota, as they refer to it over there. Situated roughly 10 miles from Royal Birkdale in Lancashire on the northwest shorline, it now lies about a mile inland from the water. Time can do that to a landscape. Yet it is still very much a links layout, which means the wind from the sea comes into play even though you can't see the wet stuff. Did we mention there are just over 200 bunkers? And it's the only Open course, and one of few in any major, that opens with a par 3.

Curiously, the place is surrounded by red brick houses and flanked on the west by a railway line. There's not much in the way of rough and the ground is relatively level compared to many Open venues, but Lytham is nonetheless considered one of the tougher championship tests. Especially if the weather gets filthy, as they like to say on the BBC telecast. And given some of the challenges that brand of golf can present, that's certainly some statement. The lowest winning score there was Tom Lehman's 271 in 1996. This is the first time it's going to play as a par 70.

Three of the par 3s are on the front side. And the last six holes are all par 4s. So if nothing else it's a little different from a purist's standpoint. Not only is the back nine longer, it usually plays into the wind. So there's not a lot of good birdie opportunities late. In other words, in the right conditions it can be beastly.

Or, trying once again to evaluate some of the usual suspects:

Tiger Woods (5-1): Still as good a favorite as any. What, you were expecting maybe Webb Simpson?

Lee Westwood (8-1): Most top threes (seven) of any player to have never won a major since mid-1930s.

Rory McIlroy (10-1): Been out of form, but is ranked No. 2.

Luke Donald (12-1): World No. 1 remains a big disappointment in the majors.

Padraig Harrington (14-1): Two-time champ and Westwood are the only two to finish in the top 10 at both 2012 majors.

Phil Mickelson (16-1): Second last year, but this has never been his best major.

Graeme McDowell (18-1): Nearly won second U.S. Open in 3 years; can be a bulldog.

Sergio Garcia (20-1): Don't know why, but I have a feeling.

Ernie Els (22-1): Has obviously played well in this thing. Was third here in 2001.

Hunter Mahan (24-1): Maybe it's about time he made a serious run at one of these.

Ian Poulter (26-1): Having so-so year, possible threat when mood strikes.

Louis Oosthuizen (28-1): 2010 champ has one of game's best swings, so it usually comes down to putter.

Bubba Watson (30-1): Masters champ looked lost at U.S. Open.

Jim Furyk (35-1): Had his chance at U.S. Open. This hasn't been his best major.

Darren Clarke (40-1): Don't see a repeat, but was third here in '01.

The dreaded pick: My friend tells me to keep picking Tiger. At this point, the first time I don't pick him he'll win. I'm not in love with his chances, but ... I have McIlroy in a pool, so you know what that means. But to round out my trifecta, I'm going to throw in two names out of left field. Remember, Furyk almost came through for me at the U.S. Open. So how about Sergio Garcia and Ernie Els? Just don't ask me why. They'll probably both miss the cut.

Did You Know?

Darren Clarke's win last July came in his 20th Open start, which broke the previous record of 15 that it took Nick Price before he finally got a claret jug in 1994 at Turnberry. Clarke's best finish before that had been a tie for second with Jesper Parnevik in 1997, three behind Justin Leonard at Royal Troon.

Only 1992 U.S. Open champion Tom Kite (72) and 1998 Masters winner Mark O'Meara (59) had needed more starts to win their first majors than Clarke's 54. Kite never won another. O'Meara got one more, three months later at the British Open.

Phil Mickelson's tie for second last July was his seventh in a major, in his 76th start. Five of those have come at the U.S. Open.

Six players have won the U.S. and British Opens in the same year: Bobby Jones (1926 and ‘30), Gene Sarazen (1932), Ben Hogan (1953), Lee Trevino (1971), Tom Watson (1982) and Tiger Woods (2000).

Since 1951, six players have won this major in consecutive years: Peter Thomason (1954-56), Arnold Palmer (1961-62), Lee Trevino (1971-72), Tom Watson (1982-83), Tiger Woods (2005-06) and Padraig Harrington (2007-08).

The oldest British Open winner remains Tom Morris Sr., who was 46 years, 3 months and 9 days old when he got it done in 1867, in the eighth time it was held. That was his fourth and last win. Tom Morris Jr. would take the next four.

Three different amateurs have won this major. The last was Bobby Jones (for the second time) in 1930.

Jones wasn't going to play in the 1926 Open. Then, a couple of weeks before, he lost his fifth-round match in the British Amateur (to Andrew Jamieson) at Muirfield without even winning a hole. So, after playing in the Walker Cup at St. Andrews (where he beat Cyril Tolley, 12 and 11), he decided to stick around for qualifying and wound up hoisting the first of his three claret jugs. Two weeks later he won the U.S. Open, which was held a month later that year. And in 1927 he successfully defended his British title at St. Andrews.

Americans have only won this thing one of the last five times, after taking 10 of the previous dozen (the exceptions being Ernie Els in 2002 and Paul Lawrie in 1999). But from 1984-93, international players won nine of 10. The blip there was Mark Calcavecchia in 1989.

The first Open was held in October 1860, or 6 months before Confederate troops fired shots upon Fort Sumter to begin the Civil War.

Since the playoff format switched from 18 holes to four, there have been eight. One has gone on to sudden death (Ernie Els over Thomas Levet in 2002, after Steve Elkington and Stuart Appleby were eliminated).


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