Opens

Carnoustie has been hailed as one of the hardest links golf courses in the world and has its fair share of drama and excitement. Below are accounts of these emphatic wins and pieces of history.

The Championship golf course

Tommy Armour in 1931

It was entirely fitting that the first Open to be held in Carnoustie was won by expatriate Scot, Tommy Armour. Born and educated in Edinburgh, Armour was blinded in his left eye during World War One. He emigrated to the US and turned professional in 1925.

At the start of the final round, Armour was five shots behind the leader, Jose Jurado of Argentina. In a similar fashion to Jean Van de Velde, however, Jurado hit a shot into the Barry Burn at the 17th, which caused him to drop shots. That is to take nothing away from Armour, however, who shot a record-equalling final round of 71 and, until Paul Lawrie’s vistory in 1999, was the last Scot to win an Open in Scotland.

Henry Cotton in 1937

Playing in atrocious weather conditions, Henry Cotton’s victory in the 1937 Open was probably one of the greatest in the long history of the tournament. Cotton opened with a 74, then improved his score each day by one stroke, finishing with an aggregate score of 290. He went into the final round 3 shots adrift of leader, Reg Whitcombe. Despite the gales, torrential rain and fierce competition from almost the entire US Ryder Cup team (fresh from their victory at Southport), Cotton shot an incredible final round of 71 to take the title by two shots.

Ben Hogan in 1953

Not too many golfers can claim that a train made an unscheduled stop so that passengers could watch them hit their first shot in an Open Championship. Such was the level of interest in Ben Hogan’s visit to Carnoustie in 1953, that a train pulled up specially to watch Hogan’s first competitive shot on Scottish soil.

Having already won the Masters and the US Open that year, Hogan was advised by fellow Americans to enter the Open. This was despite the fact that he was still suffering the effects of a near-fatal car crash, Clearly, 1953 was rather an eventful year for Ben Hogan.

He arrived in Carnoustie 2 weeks before the event started, so that he could become acclimatised to links golf. However, it should be remembered that despite the majors already in Hogan’s bag, he still had to qualify for the competition, as there were no exemptions in these days. This he duly did (on the Burnside and Medal courses), improving his score in every round – and playing two rounds on the Saturday.

Hogan’s preparations for the 1953 Open have entered into Carnoustie folklore. With tournament officials out in force to control the crowds (these were practice rounds, remember), Hogan proceeded to play three practice shots from all the tees, except the short holes. He did this so as to work out the best positions for his approach shots, and also to avoid the fearsome bunkers.

The only other exception to this general formula was at the notorious 6th hole, where Hogan played five practice shots from the tee. As a result of Hogan’s canny preparations, the fairway on the 6th hole is affectionately known as “Hogan’s Alley”. Another interesting feature of Hogan’s preparations for the Open was his habit of walking the course in reverse – i.e. from green to tee – each evening, before hopping into his chauffeur-driven limousine and heading back to his hotel in Dundee. (Hogan checked out of Carnoustie’s Bruce Hotel because there were no ensuite facilities in his room to let him take much-needed hot baths to ease the pain in his legs after his practice rounds.)

In the tournament itself, Hogan improved his score in each round, carding scores of 73-71-70-68. Tied with Roberto de Vicenza on 214 after three rounds, his final score of 68 gave him a four-stroke victory over Peter Thomson, Antonio Cerda, Dai Rees and amateur, Frank Stranahan. Hogan certainly made a big impression on the locals during his sojourn, with them nicknaming him the ‘wee ice mon’. One wonders why this was the only Open that he chose to play in?

Gary Player in 1968

Gary Player won his second Open in 1968, after holding off challenges from Jack Nicklaus and Bob Charles. 1968 was a superb year for the ‘Black Knight’, with him winning seven competitions – his triumph at Carnoustie being the outstanding victory of that golden year.

Player and Nicklaus, two of the ‘Big Three’ in the 1960s (Arnold Palmer was the other), fought a terrific duel over the back nine at Carnoustie, with the dramatic events at the par-5 14th being particularly memorable. From the rough and against the wind, Nicklaus hit his ball into the heart of the green to set up a putt for an eagle. Player trumped this by hitting his 4-wood shot 248 yards over the ‘Spectacles’ bunkers, with the ball stopping just two feet away from the hole. Player tapped in for an eagle and a 2-shot lead, and went on to win the championship by two shots. Player won the Open again in 1974, thus creating a unique record by winning the tournament in three separate decades – 1959, 1968 and 1974.

Tom Watson in 1975

It’s strange to think that prior to Tom Watson’s Open victory at Carnoustie in 1975, he had unfairly gained the reputation for being a ‘choker’ in major tournaments – despite the fact he was aged only 25! Losing the lead in the final round during the US Opens of 1974 and 1975 was the reason behind Watson’s early reputation as a ‘choker’, with him posting final rounds of 77 and 79 in these two tournaments.

Watson showed how ridiculous this ‘choker’ reputation was by winning the Open in his very first attempt, thus emulating the achievements of Tony Lema and Ben Hogan. Then as if to emphasise the point, he proceeded to win four more Open Championships over the next 8 years – thereby becoming the most successful American ever to play links golf in the UK. Curiously, until his victory at Royal Birkdale in 1983, it seemed that Watson could only win the Open when the tournament was being held in Scotland.

Paul Lawrie in 1999

Paul Lawrie’s memorable victory in the 128th Open was the first time a Scot had won on home soil since Tommy Armour’s win in 1931, and was the first time a home-based Scot had won since Willie Auchterlonie in 1893. The fact that he lives within an hour’s drive of Carnoustie and had to qualify even to enter the tournament, makes his victory extra special. And starting the final round 10 strokes behind the leader also added to the ‘boy’s own dream’ feeling of Lawrie’s triumph. But as Lawrie himself said when considering his chances before the final day’s play, ‘strange things happen’.

The reason why this was such an unforgettable Open was due to another qualifier called Jean Van de Velde – a 200 to 1 outsider. On the tee of the 72nd hole, Van de Velde was three shots in front. Instead of playing for safety, however, he chose to try and win in style, and ended up zig-zagging his way down the 18th fairway, only reaching the green after a defiant paddle in the Barry Burn. But it should be pointed out that this golfing odyssey was conducted with great dignity and no little humour.

His playing partner, Craig Parry, added to the humour by suggesting that perhaps Van de Velde could delay playing out of the Barry Burn for a few minutes, since the ebbing tide would soon leave his submerged ball playable. Parry further contributed to the general surrealism, by holing his shot from the bunker for a birdie. With their closing rounds of 67, 72 and 77, Lawrie, Justin Leonard and Van de Velde now had to play a 4-hole play-off.

Although Van de Velde briefly broke down in tears in the scorer’s hut, he was soon back in good form after a pep talk from his wife. So at the start of the play-off he greeted his fellow competitors with the quip, ‘I thought it would be better if we kept the entertainment going, and that is why I have invited you to play a few more holes’. ‘Entertainment’ for weekend golfers, perhaps, as Leonard and Lawrie took bogeys on the first two play-off holes, while Van de Velde started with a double bogey then a bogey. After this, however, Lawrie’s masterful iron play dominated the proceedings, as he played two 4-iron shots to 15 feet and then 3 feet of the pin at the 17th and the 18th. Lawrie sank both putts for birdies and a 4-hole total of 15, which is level par. Thus the most extraordinary of Opens finally ended with the silver trophy safe in Paul Lawrie’s hands.

2007 Padraig Harrington

Padraig Harrington pipped Sergio Garcia in a four-hole play-off to clinch the 136th Open Championship at Carnoustie after one of the most dramatic finishes in recent years.

The Irishman won his maiden major title despite blowing a one-shot lead in the Barry Burn in regulation play in scenes reminiscent of Jean van de Velde’s infamous collapse in 1999.

The 35-year-old Harrington put two shots into the stream in front of the 18th en route to a double-bogey six to allow Garcia, playing in the final group, a par putt to win the Open.

But the Spaniard, who was three clear overnight, missed. And Harrington beat his Ryder Cup team-mate by one stroke over the extra holes to become Europe’s first major champion since Scotland’s Paul Lawrie won a play-off over the same links eight years ago.

“If I’d lost after what happened on 18 I don’t know what I would have thought about playing golf again,” said Harrington, who carded 67 to finish seven under.