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.
So here’s a highly-subjective selection of some Misses to forget – in the absence of real, live Open golf. We started at number 5 where Adam Scott’s painful finish at Royal Lytham & St Annes gifted the Claret Jug to Ernie Els in 2012. His wait for a Major would finally end at Augusta.
It was a similar story at number 4 at Royal St George’s in 2011 as Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson left the door Open for our own Darren Clarke to walk through to glory while taking the podium place at 3 was Hale Irwin and his one-handed calamity missed putt at Royal Birkdale in 1983.
Doug Sanders’ cringe-inducing miss on the 72nd hole at St. Andrews took second spot while at number one – no, it’s not a damp-footed Frenchmen – rather one Rory McIlroy who succumbed to the weight of a nation last year.
#1 148th Open Championship, Royal Portrush, 18th – 21st July 2019
Only the second Open Championship in history to have been played over the world-renowned Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland was less than four-hours-old – it had been got underway just after 6.30am by home favourite Darren Clarke – but all eyes (some 10,000 of them) were on the much-anticipated 10.09am tee-off, a three-ball involving England’s Paul Casey, the then reigning US Open champion Gary Woodland, and local hero – and pre-tournament favourite – Rory McIlroy, for many, the start of a triumphant march towards the Northern Irishman’s second Claret Jug and a first ‘Major’ title in five long years, and all on home soil.
But, in what must surely rank as one of the most inauspicious starts to an Open Championship campaign by one of the more fancied players, hope and optimism quickly – all in the space of a quarter-of-an-hour – had turned to dust following a catalogue of errors of judgment and mishit shots as the 30-year-old from nearby Holywood – a man with a fine pedigree over Royal Portrush – (indeed, he held the course record, 11-under-par 61 in the 2005 North of Ireland Championship) as he crashed and burned almost before he had even started living the dream.
With packed grandstands on three sides of the first tee and fans lining the fairway five-deep, more like it was Saturday or Sunday afternoon and not first thing Thursday morning, the sense of anticipation, even celebration was palpable as McIlroy – with the honour – got his 11th Open Championship campaign underway. The man whose last three Open finishes had been tied 5th, 4th and 2nd looked as nervous as a kitten on the first tee, the occasion etching a clear tension on his haunted face.
A conservative iron off the first – a modest 421-yard, Par-4 called, ‘Hughie’ – did not go well, McIlroy turning it over and carving his opening strike out-of-bounds down the left, ignominy following as he had wait for his playing partners to tee-off before reloading, firing his second ball – his third shot – into deep rough also to the left.
So impenetrable was his lie, a penalty drop was required, McIlroy, clearly nonplussed with events, flopped an indecisive pitch to 10ft, only to miss the putt for an opening quadruple-bogey eight, surely the most foreboding start to a ‘Major’ in living memory?
Having signed for an opening round 79 – 13 back from leader JB Holmes – the home favourite almost pulled the rabbit out of the hat with a stunning second round 65, missing the cut by a single shot, but the die had been cast and the damage done on a catastrophic opening hole he will long wish to forget.