The Royal Birkdale: An Open Championship History

Thursday marks the beginning of the 10th Open Championship to be held at Royal Birkdale. It has hosted nine previous from 1954 to 2008. Here’s a historic look back at the previous nine hostings at Royal Birkdale.

1954:  Peter Thomson, a 23-year-old Australia, one of the first of his five Open titles by a single stroke over Bobby Locke, Dai Reese, and Syd Scott. He shot 9-under. In the opening round, Sam King and Bill Spence both set a new course record with 69s, but Scott broke it the next day with a 67. Scott, Reese, and Thomson were all tied through 54 holes. Thomson needed just a par and a bogey to win the title, getting the par on 17 and the bogey on 18. It started three straight titles at the Open for Thomson, the first man to do that since Bob Ferguson (1880-1882).

1961 – Arnold Palmer won the title by shooting -under, one stroke ahead of Dai Reese. Palmer had finished second in 1961 and would win again in 1962. Palmer’s legendary shot from inside a blackberry bush on No. 16 the final day won him the title and a commemorative plaque, as some argue it was the greatest shot in Open history. Gale force winds and heavy rains punctuated the tournament. Gary Player, the 1959 champ and that year’s Masters winner, had to withdraw in the third round due a sour stomach. Palmer was up a stroke on Rees through three days thanks to his 69 on Saturday.

1965 – Thomson won his fifth and final Open crown, coming seven years after his fourth. Ireland amateur Joe Carr set the tournament on fire with his opening-round 70 that tied Palmer for third.  In Friday morning’s third round, many of the leaders’ scores fell apart while Thomson hit a 72 to take a 1-stroke lead. Previous co-leaders Bruce Devlin and Tony Lema each shot a 75. Thompson added a 71 in the final round to finish at 7-under, two strokes clear of Brian Huggett and Christy O’Connor Senior.

1971 – The 100th edition of The Open was won by … an American? Lee Trevino dominated the course to the tune of a 14-under finish just one month after he had won the US Open by defeating Jack Nicklaus in a playoff. He became the fourth man to win the US Open and The Open Championship in the same year, joining Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, and Ben Hogan. Trevino had also won the Canadian Open the previous week. Trevino was a wire-to-wire winner, tied for the lead the first two days and then took it solo on Day 3 at 11-under. Four players hit at least 10-under for the tournament, with Trevino’s closing round 70 enough to hold off Taiwan’s Lu Liang Huan by one stroke. It was Lu’s only Major finish higher than 37th.

1976 – Johnny Miller devastated the field with a closing 6-under 66 to finish six strokes ahead of Seve Ballesteros and Jack Nicklaus at 9-under. Just 19 at the time, Ballesteros led by two strokes after 54 holes, but was 7-over through the first 12 holes of the final round, including hitting a triple bogey on No. 11. In the final round, Miller took the lead on No. 6 when Ballesteros double-bogeed it, and was up three strokes at the turn after being down three to start the round. He was up six over Nicklaus when Ballesteros tripled No. 11, and Miller eagled No. 13 to reach 7-under and put the tournament on ice.

1983 – Tom Watson won his fifth Open, his eighth and final Major. He was the first five-time winner since Peter Thomson. Craig Stadler boat-raced the field with an opening-round 64 while Watson was one of three men to fire a 67. Watson passed Stadler by a shot to reach 8-under through 54, then used a final-round 70 to hold off late charging Andy Bean and Hale Irwin by a stroke.

1991 – For the first time in 26 years, and Englishman won the Open at Birkdale as Ian Baker-Finch delivered his only Major, finishing two strokes ahead of Mike Harwood. Baker_Finch was tied for 28th after two rounds, then went 10-under on the weekend, including a 66 on Sunday that was bolstered by a front-nine 29. He went from 28th to tied for first with Mark O’Meara thanks to his 64 on Saturday that got him to 4-under. Sunday was a day of low scores as Jodie Mudd shot a 63, Fred Couples a 64, and both Baker-Finch and Bob Tway came in at 66.

1998- American Mark O’Meara became the first playoff winner of The Open and also won it and the Masters in the same year. He also became the oldest player (41) to win two Majors in one year.  Americans John Huston and Tiger Woods each shot an opening-round 65 to pace the field, but the course began chewing up players and spitting them out from there.  After 36 holes, only five players were under par, including amateur Justin Rose tied for second at 2-under. After 54 holes, no one was under par, with American Brian Watts leading the field at even. O’Meara and Woods both charged on Sunday, with O’Meara’s 68 tying Watts at 280 while Woods came up a stroke short despite carding a 66. A four-hole playoff followed with O’Meara sinking a birdie on the first hole to provide the difference, winning by two strokes.

2008 – Padraig Harrington defended his Open championship from a year before, shooting 4-under through the final nine holes to easily defeat Ian Poulter by two strokes. The course difficulty was obvious from the outset as only three players were under par after the first round, and all three just 1-under. Harrington was three strokes back at the midway point, in a seven-way tie for fourth. He moved into second through 54 at 4-over, tied with K.J. Choi two strokes behind the legendary Greg Norman, who at the time was 53 years old and 15 years removed from his last Open title in 1993. Norman couldn’t survive Sunday, bogeying his first three holes to fall out of the lead as Harrington picked up stroke after stroke simply by parring the first six holes of the course. Choi suffered five straight bogeys to balloon to 10-over through eight, but Norman got the lead back at the turn when Harrington had three straight bogeys to hit 7-over. Harrington was electric down the stretch, however; he birdied 13 and 15 and hit an eagle on No. 17 to push his lead from two to four over Poulter.

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