Tour Championship: Preview
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When Costantino Rocca fluffed his delicate chip on the 18th hole into the dreaded Valley of Sin, his chances of winning The Open were done. Or so we thought. The Italian pulled himself together and against all odds holed his mammoth putt to force a play-off, as American John Daly, the clubhouse leader, looked on. Rocca dropped to his knees and double fist-thumped the sacred turf in ecstatic celebration. However, it seemed to drain him emotionally and Daly would go on to win the four-hole play-off by four shots.
The Open had lost some of its lustre post war and it took golf’s new King, Arnold Palmer, making his long-awaited Open debut in 1960, to restore it to its former glory. Crowds followed the charismatic American everywhere in his quest for the modern Grand Slam, having already won the Masters and US Open that year. Despite that, he still had to come through a 36-hole qualifier to take his place in the field.
Though he was beaten by one stroke by Australian Kel Nagle, he loved the experience and vowed: “I’ll keep coming back until I win this championship.” A year later at Royal Birkdale he did just that, and again at Troon in 1962, to elevate The Open to the summit of world golf where it has remained ever since.
Before the 1970 Open Championship, Jack Nicklaus said: “If you’re going to be a player people will remember, you have to win the Open at St. Andrews.” He finished second on his first appearance at the Old Course in 1964 and in 1970 it looked like he would be frustrated again. At the 72nd hole, American Doug Sanders had a three-foot putt for golfing immortality. But the crowds gasped as his legs buckled. He missed the putt, forcing an 18-hole playoff.
The Golden Bear quickly raced to a four-shot lead after 13 holes, but that was down to one by the 18th. Nicklaus dramatically removed his sweater at the tee in what must have been an intimidating gesture for Sanders. He then ripped his drive so far down the 358-yard par four it nearly went out of bounds. He then sent a brilliant chip down the slope to right by the hole. Sanders made birdie but so did Jack, who famously threw his putter high in the air, with it nearly crashing down on his already crushed opponent.
Tiger Woods’ Open victory at St. Andrews in 2000 meant that if he went on to win the Masters in 2001 he would achieve the historic ‘Tiger Slam’ – winning all four majors in a row. He arrived in Scotland a month after his record-breaking 15-shot win at the US Open which was followed by victory at the PGA Championship.
His rival at the time, Ernie Els, who finished second in the previous two majors, led him by one after the first day, but he and Thomas Bjorn would finish a record eight shots back by Sunday. Woods remarkably did not find a single one of St Andrews’ devilish bunkers all week. He did go on to win the Green Jacket and his four majors in a row feat may never be repeated. In 2015, Tiger returned to St. Andrews and became only the fifth player, after Bob Martin, JH Taylor, James Braid and Jack Nicklaus, to win two Opens at the Home of Golf.
Seve Ballesteros’ swashbuckling golf, movie star looks and magnetic charisma all came together in one glorious moment on the final hole at St. Andrews in 1984. Although playing in separate groups, the final round that year was fought out between the young Spaniard with the brilliant short game and the seasoned five-time winner Tom Watson.
Just as the American made a bogey on the infamous 17th Road Hole, Seve delicately curled in a 15-feet birdie putt on the 18th before unleashing the now iconic celebration of several fist pumps with the final ones stretching to the sky, which would go on to become his personal logo. It perfectly summed up how it must feel to win golf’s most historic title at the sport’s spiritual home.