With this year’s Open Championship denied to golf fans all around the world due to Coronavirus, it may be second best, but looking back at Opens past, and savouring some of the most significant single golf shots – good and bad – to have adorned the world’s most prestigious ‘Major’ in living memory might help ease – if not altogether eradicate – withdrawal symptoms and pangs of ‘Wish I was there,’ syndrome.
Great golf shots come in all shapes and sizes, from prodigious drives to eagle-making or par-saving putts, miraculous escapes from bunkers and bushes, the most audacious when the pressure is on and the chips are down, hence, context is everything.
So here’s a highly-subjective selection of Greatest Hits to remember and some Misses to forget – in the absence of real, live Open golf.
We started with some magic from the Big Easy, Ernie Els at Muirfield in 2002 and moved on to some Tiger Woods gold from Royal Liverpool in 2006. At number 8, we had Gene Sarazen sign off on his Open career with an unforgettable hole-in one while ‘The Duel in the Sun’ sits proudly at number 7.
At number 6, we had a much more recent affair in Jordan Spieth’s ventures down the right of 13 en route to victory at Royal Birkdale in 2017 while at number 5 we had two memorable encounters with the wall on the infamous 17th at St Andrews, the Road Hole.
At number 4 we had smiling Spaniard, Seve raising his fist in glory at St Andrews in 1988 while another Continental European, this time an Italian in Constantino Rocca, took number 3 after pulling off a near miracle with a 50 foot Houdini act on the 72nd at St Andrews in 1995.
At number 2, a little known English amateur named Justin Rose very nearly pulled off one of the greatest shocks the sport has ever seen and now we have our number one. In truth, could it have gone to anybody else?!
#1 137th Open Championship, Royal Birkdale, 17th – 20th July 2008
Without question, the outstanding candidate for top-spot, especially given the context, an Open Championship in the balance, there to be won or lost – pressure, and some – the severity of the threat of the opposition, the weather and the degree of jeopardy in getting it wrong, optimum risk and reward, not to mention the sheer technical difficulty of executing such a shot.
But, cometh the moment, cometh the man; Irishman Pádraig Harrington had reeled-in his playing partner, the veteran Greg Norman’s two-stroke overnight lead and hung-in there whilst Ian Poulter set-off some typical firecrackers to force his way into – then out of – contention.
Having steadied his own ship following three bogeys around the turn, Harrington, then a month short of his 37th birthday and with a narrow lead with two to play, split the fairway off the 17th tee as he and his caddie Ronan Flood surveyed the scene, weighed-up the options and took a calculated gamble.
Out came Harrington’s favourite golf club of all, his 5-wood; 272-yards to the pin, 40mph winds gusting over his left shoulder, the Irishman took aim, his ball strike as pure as humanly possible as his ball drilled, seemingly under the capricious breeze, navigating the shoulder of a bunker front left, rolling the length of the green to settle a mere meter from the hole, an eagle three a formality and the rest, as they say, ‘Is history’ – Harrington crowned, ‘Champion Golfer of the Year’ for 2008, and a successful defence of the Claret Jug he had won at Carnoustie a year earlier.
“I was feeling good, I had my favourite club in my hand, a perfect distance, a smooth swing and sweet contact, I knew that if I executed that shot, I’d win The Open,” recalled the Irishman, and he was as good as his word thanks to a gilt-edged shot well and truly out of the top drawer.
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