The Open has a remarkable legacy of inspiring champions, but what was the greatest finish?
Here’s Matt Cooper’s rundown of the top ten, in order. Agree with him? Read his choices, watch the videos and make up your own mind.
10. Harrington and Garcia, Carnoustie 2007
The year Sergio had a putt to win it and Harrington gained the stare. A final day of drama that left one man bereft and launched another’s run of three major wins in six starts. Why 10? Because in truth the 18th beat the field up: they all limped home.
9. Tiger destroys the field, St Andrews 2000
In June of that year Woods had obliterated the field by 15 strokes at Pebble Beach, in July he thrashed them by 8 shots at the home of golf. Why nine? Was it one of the greatest victories? Undoubtedly. But one of the greatest finishes? Not unless you were counting by how many shots he beat the field.
8. Watson sunk by Cink, Turnberry 2009
At the scene of one of his greatest triumphs 59-year-old Tom Watson was on the brink of bettering it, but then it all went horribly wrong … Why eight? If he’d holed the putt on the 72nd hole to win it, number one no question. But unfortunately he didn’t
7. The Wild Thing and Rocca, St Andrews, 1995
The year Costantino Rocca fluffed his chip, redeemed himself with a putt for the ages, then John Daly turned away from his wife’s consoling embrace and won the play-off. Why seven? If only Costantino’s putt had been for the win …
6. Van de Velde’s car crash, Carnoustie 1999
In the rush to recall the various disasters which befell the Frenchman on the 72nd hole it is frequently forgotten that for 71 holes he trounced the field on the Championship’s return to the toughest track on the rota. But the collapse was compelling. Why six? Without doubt a memorable finish, but the greatest? Maybe for those of a sadistic mentality.
5. Mickelson’s charge, Muirfield 2013
The links turf was baked, the sky was blue, the air was warm and the field was on a Sunday charge, but none maintained it like Mickelson. Why five? We’re getting to the crux and Phil features highly because he won with a genuinely great finish – he played the back nine in three shots better than anyone else in contention that afternoon.
4. Doug Sanders has a little moment, St Andrews 1970
The year Doug saw something between his ball and the hole, the year Doug had a horrible little poke at the ball when immortality beckoned, the year Doug very nearly tapped the ball in the hole whilst it was still moving, so overcome with his own disaster was he. And the year Jack Nicklaus almost brained poor Doug next day at the conclusion of the play-off, when he hurled his putter in the air and didn‘t know where it was heading. Why four? Still not sure a collapse ranks as a great finish, but that funny little, horribly embarrassed, move Doug makes after the putt never ceases to make me smile. We’ve all been there, just not quite on such a stage.
3. Mexican hot chip, Muirfield 1972
Cut and thrust between the defending champion Lee Trevino and the home favourite Tony Jacklin. Why three? Because it was a superb head-to-head finale, was settled by a series of astonishing chip-ins from Trevino, and it had a long-standing effect on Jacklin’s future championship pedigree. An era- and career-defining finish.
(Before we continue – Lytham in 1988 would be my personal pick for three. A final round three-ball of Faldo, Price and Ballesteros which had it all: superb shots, sensational shots; challenges, responses; audacity, determination; skill, fortune; flair, discipline. A magnificent finale.)
2. Seve’s fist pump, St Andrews
The year the great Spaniard triumphed at the home of golf and ended Tom Watson’s decade of dominance at The Open. Why two? Because a superb final round battle was ended by a magnificent putt, followed by golf’s most revered celebration. Pure theatre.
1. The Duel in the Sun, Turnberry 1977
The year Gaylord Burroughs and Roger Maltbie played in the penultimate group. Whay do you mean, you’d forgotten that?! Oh yeah, only two men counted in 1977. Why number one? Because Nicklaus and Watson fought over the final 36 holes and then over the final 18 holes. The battle was still not won heading into the back nine, nor indeed as they approached the final tee. This was a protracted great finish and a concentrated one; a great finish that bubbled and also boiled. On that 72nd hole Nicklaus found trouble from the tee, Watson left himself two feet for birdie. And still it was not done. Nicklaus holed an enormous birdie putt of his own and then Watson did what he would fail to do 32 years later: he holed out for the win.