Welcome to the final—and best—major championship of the year.
The past 11 years of Open Championships have provided plenty of memorable moments; on the whole, it has been the most exciting major in recent times.
Unlike our other “reliving” recaps, this one will not rank the events. There have been too many good ones, and it feels wrong to say one was better than another. So instead, let’s head down memory lane and appreciate them all.
2008 – Reign of Padraig
July 2008 was a dark time in golf. Tiger had just gone under the knife to fix his leg and would miss a major for the first time since 1996. It was in his absence that a new hero arose.
Royal Birkdale and Mother Nature beat up the field for most of the first three rounds. Few were able to break 70, and the 54-hole leader was none other than Greg Norman. The Shark was 53 (and fully clothed) at the time, making him the oldest 54-hole leader in major championship history. He would falter on Sunday with a 77.
The man who did not falter was Padraig Harrington. The Irishman played the final six holes in four under and won by four shots. This was Harrington’s second straight Open after outlasting Sergio at Carnoustie in ’07. He would go on to win the ’08 PGA Championship as well, capping an incredible run of major championship golf.
2009 – That Cinking feeling
This one still eats me up inside.
The 2009 Open was full of whispers and hope. One year after 53-year-old Greg Norman was in the mix, 59-year-old Tom Watson stepped to the tee on Sunday with the lead. (Mind you, this is pre-Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson, so everyone still loved him)
Old Tom lost the lead early on Sunday to Lee Westwood but recovered on the back nine. The fateful moment came on 18, where Watson’s approach trundled over the back, leading to a bogey. The playoff with Stewart Cink wasn’t close.
Tom Watson’s last major victory was in 1983, and he came thisclose to notching one 25 (!!!) years later. It was a performance we’ll never forget.
2010 – “On the tee from South Africa, Looooeyyyy Oooooosthuizennn”
Long live Ivor Robson.
Every Open Championship at St. Andrews is special, but the 2010 edition featured some seriously exciting action.
On the first two days, Rory shot rounds of 63 and 80, dealing with nearly gale force winds in his second round. Play was actually suspended for over an hour on Friday because balls were moving on the greens.
The tournament would belong to the Mattress King in the end. Louis shot rounds of 65, 67, 69, and 71 to cruise to a seven-shot victory. He joined the likes of Ernie Els and Gary Player as South African Open champions. And he got to stroll over the Swilken Bridge with the Claret Jug essentially in his hands, perhaps the most enviable walk in golf.
2011 – One for the old guys
I’ll be honest, if we were ranking these by the most memorable, this would be near the bottom of my list. I love me some Darren Clarke, but his victory at Royal St. George’s didn’t stick with me.
The week started with English amateur Tom Lewis tying for the first-round lead with Thomas Bjørn. Later in the tournament, Dustin Johnson made a run, as did Phil, who got within one shot of the lead on Sunday.
In the end, Darren Clarke coasted to a three-shot victory. Lefty and DJ tied for second and Bjørn held on for a solo fourth. That meant that three of the top four players were over 40 years old. Considering the amount of young talent today, it seems unlikely that this will happen again in the near future.
2012 – Four shots, the worst lead in golf
The 2012 Open Championship will forever be remembered not for the champion but for the runner-up.
Adam Scott started the week 64-67-68 and went to the 1st tee with a four-shot lead on Sunday. With that large of a lead, it could have been a comfortable day for Scott. However, the names chasing him were Graeme McDowell, Brandt Snedeker, Ernie Els, and Tiger Woods.
Still, Scott went to the 15th tee with a four-shot lead over Ernie Els. Pedestrian golf on the way in would get it done. Bogey, bogey, bogey, bogey would not. The big Australian lost the lead to Ernie, who birdied 18 and captured his fourth major championship. (Scott vindicated himself the following April, winning the 2013 Masters.)
2013 – The Phrankenwood
Hold on to your hats, things are about to get phun.
Zach Johnson and Miguel Angel Jimenez held the early leads at the 2013 Open, but the rest of the week would be about the thoroughbreds (and Hunter Mahan, if you’re into that sort of thing).
Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott. That was your Sunday leaderboard at the 2013 Open Championship.
Lee Westwood did as Lee Westwood does (sorry Andy), losing his lead early on Sunday. There were six or seven players within three shots of the lead at all times—then Phil happened. Lefty birdied 13 and 14 before reaching the par-5 17th in two with his specialized devil 2-wood type thing. He birdied the final two and claimed the major he never thought he would win. Muirfield did not disappoint.
2014 – The Year of the Rory
It sounds crazy, but Rory McIlroy has been one of the best players in golf for nearly a decade. He burst onto the scene with his 62 in the 2010 Wells Fargo and dominated the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship. Yet 2014 was his definitive season.
Rory had 12 top 10s in 2014 on the PGA Tour to go with a win on the European Tour. He also won the Open Championship, the WGC-Bridgestone, and the PGA Championship in back-to-back-to-back starts.
He held the lead after every round of the 2014 Open and never let anyone get closer than three shots of him on Sunday. It was sheer dominance, a microcosm of his season.
2015 – It’s gone (to Johnson)
Back to the Old Course we go! The 2015 Open was great because of how many players had a chance. Also, you had Jordan Spieth continuing his grand-slam hunt and an amateur playing in the final group on Sunday!
The main characters on Sunday were Louis Oosthuizen, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Marc Leishman, and Zach Johnson.
All eyes were on Speith’s quest for a third straight major, but a 71st-hole bogey left him a shot short. Jason Day joined him, failing to make enough putts down the stretch. Paul Dunne, the Irish amateur in the final pairing, made a valiant effort, but a final-round 78 sent him tumbling down the leaderboard.
Johnson, Leishman, and Oosthuizen ended up in a four-hole playoff. Louis was going for his second straight St. Andrews victory, but it proved to be ZJ’s day. Johnson took home his second major and his first since the 2007 Masters.
2016 – The Duel
I moved to Chicago on July 5, 2016. I lived in a studio apartment with a couch and a small table, and I could almost reach my stove from my bed. But hey, I had a TV, and it came in handy on July 17, 2016.
The battle between Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson at Royal Troon will go down as one of the best championship duels of all time. Both were -5 through 10 holes, and when they walked to the 14th tee, they were tied. Stenson would go on to birdie four of the final five holes, shooting a remarkable final-round 63 (with two bogeys).
With the performance these two put on, you would have thought the course was playing easy. But it wasn’t. At all. Phil beat third place by 11 shots.
The Stenson/Mickelson duel will stick with me for a long time. I’ll remember hooting and hollering with every shot, all by myself in that studio. It was the type of sports moment that doesn’t come around often.
2017 – Go get that!
“What the hell is going on?” That’s what many of us were thinking as Jordan Spieth wandered around the Royal Birkdale driving range last year. It took him nearly 20 minutes to figure out how to play the next shot, and the rest was history.
Spieth started the day with a three-shot lead over Matt Kuchar. He struggled to four bogeys on the front nine and surrendered his cushion. His ordeal on 13 led to a bogey and left Matt Kuchar on top. Then the real fun started. Spieth played the next four holes -5 and left with the Claret Jug.
As happy as I was for Spieth, I felt just as bad for Kuchar. He has numerous top 10s but no victories in majors. He had a one-shot lead on 14, made two more birdies, and still lost by three. Just one implausible fact from an implausible championship.
2018 – Frankie says, “Relax, your dreams are dead”
Let’s start with the most important takeaway from the 2018 Open: the Nike “Nasty” golf shoes. As in, “Car-Nasty.” It was totally cool back in 2018, Nike promises.
Anyway, the championship really got underway on Saturday, when Spieth drove the 1st green and made eagle. The 2017 champion went on to a 65 and a share of the 54-hole lead. Joining him at the top were Kisner and Schauffele, with Francesco Molinari three shots back. Oh, and four shots back, there was a guy named Tiger Woods.
It was a blustery Sunday at Carnoustie, and many early scores were over par. Starting the day at -9, Kisner, Spieth, and Schauffele all found themselves at least +3 on the day as they stood on the 8th tee. This brought a whole cast of characters back into the mix.
One of those characters was Tiger Woods. Unlike the leaders, he was -2 through seven holes, and at the turn, he was leading. Leading! He promptly unleashed this insane bunker shot on 10, sending everyone into a frenzy. He might actually win. At one point I thought I might have a panic attack.
Alas, it was too good to be true. Tiger played his next two holes +3 and settled for a T-6.
Amid the leaderboard chaos, Francesco Molinari held steady. The sturdy Italian played his final 36 holes bogey free and made two key birdies down the stretch. The win capped off a stretch in which Francesco either won or finished runner-up in six tournaments in a row.