2011 seems like a lifetime ago doesn’t it? In the nine years since Darren Clarke held the Claret Jug aloft the last time The Open was held at Royal St George’s, we’ve had 25 different major winners, with 19 of those winning one for the first time.
In the golfing world, it’s been a constant battle for superiority, and one that’s been highly enjoyable to spectate.
Here we take a look at what the major stories were the last time the world’s oldest golf tournament came to Sandwich. Back in a time where we had a Royal Wedding to celebrate and England were winning the Ashes in Australia.
Will this year’s competition provide the drama it has in the past? Will we get another first-time winner? And how many victims will the 16th bunker claim in 2020?
What did we expect?
As the eyes of the golfing world focused on Royal St George’s in 2011, it was much anticipated that we would get a winner from one of the home nations. In the end we did, but not the one we expected.
Going into the tournament, it was Luke Donald who sat atop the world rankings, with Lee Westwood sitting in second. The two Englishman had been in some of the best form of their lives in the early part of the year, with Donald overcoming his compatriot in a playoff at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May.
That victory took him to the number one spot, before the 33-year-old claimed another victory at the Scottish Open a week before The Open began.
Charl Schwartzel and Rory McIlroy claimed the first two majors of the season, with the South African claiming the Green Jacket at Augusta, while Rory was victorious at the US Open, but neither could mount a serious challenge.
A weekend of unexpected results was caused by the one thing we did expect, the wet and windy weather. The gusts around the greens and rainfall on the fairway caused a tumultuous torrent of turmoil for so many, all apart from Clarke, who triumphed for his one and only major victory.
It’s England. In July. So we can expect at least a little bit more rain this time around. Apart from that, the only constant from 2011 is the fact McIlroy is a contender for the title.
The Northern Irishman is the only man to retain his place within the top ten since Clarke took victory, and instead of a number of home favourites to battle with, this time the American challenge looks stronger than ever.
Brooks Koepka will always fancy his chances in his current form, while you can never rule out Dustin Johnson or Tiger Woods at a major.
If history has taught us anything though, it’s that you can never be confident with your predictions at Royal St George’s, with Clarke and Ben Curtis the last two players to win the trophy at the prestigious course.
World Number One
As mentioned above, up until July, 2011 was Luke Donald’s year. The Hertfordshire-born man already had two European Tour victories, as well as the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship heading into The Open.
Despite topping the world rankings for a cumulative 56 weeks, a major victory was something that always eluded Donald, and he didn’t even manage to make the cut in Kent. A first round score of 71 was followed by a tough 75 on the Friday to see him drop out before the weekend began.
As 2020 begins, Koepka is the man who heads the field, with the Floridian notching four major victories since 2017. The 29-year-old has come into his own in the last few years, but The Open seems to be the scalp he can’t quite pull off.
Last year’s tied-fourth placed finish is as close as he has come to lifting the Claret Jug in his career, but 2020 could finally be his year, with Brooks’ ability to withstand the trials and tribulations of a tricky course.
The Tiger who came to the tee
2011 was largely a year to forget for Tiger Woods, as the former world number one battled injuries throughout, and dropped as low as world number 58.
A tied-fourth place finish at The Masters in April was as good as it got for the then-14-time major champion, before a leg injury ruled him out of the US Open and the event at Royal St George’s.
Fast-forward nine years, and Tiger looks to be back among the golfing elite, and could add a 16th major title to his already glittering trophy cabinet come July, if he hasn’t done so already by that point.
After the nadir of languishing in the mid-fifties, the three-time Champion Golfer is currently ranked at world number seven, and could put his past memories of Sandwich behind him with a victory.
Woods came into the 2003 event at the same venue as the hottest property in golf, but a wayward tee shot off the opening hole saw him take a 7. He never quite recovered from that setback to finish in a tie for fourth.
As the Californian looks to be back to playing some of his best golf in years, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in the leading pack come Sunday afternoon.
Heading into the 140th Open Championship, we were almost spoilt for choice for British and Irish players who could make a challenge.
Six of the top 16 in the world were from either England or Northern Ireland, including three of the top four. Donald, Westwood, and McIlroy were leading the way, with Paul Casey, Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter all challenging for titles.
Nowadays, there are only five home favourites within the top 25 of world golf, with McIlroy the only one in the top eight.
The 30-year-old is playing some of the best golf of his life, winning the 2019 FedEx Cup as well as the WSG-HSBC Champions tournament, and if there was ever a time for him to get his hands back on the sport’s most illustrious trophy, this has to be it.
Emotion got the better of the four-time major winner at last year’s event at Royal Portrush where so much was expected of him. But with the pressure comparatively eased this year, he could be there or thereabouts after 72 holes.
The other two Brits most likely to challenge are Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood. As we enter a new decade, it’s the latter that comes into it in the best shape, having claimed a fifth European Tour title at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in November, as well as finishing second to Shane Lowry last year.
Putting the demons to bed
The 132nd Open Championship in 2003 was a peculiar one. With Tiger’s aforementioned wayward first tee shot, and unknown American Ben Curtis taking the victory in a wild weekend.
A fairy tale story for Curtis maybe, but for Thomas Bjorn, it was a nightmare. The Dane held the lead by two shots going into the 16th on the final day, but three attempts to get out of the bunker saw that advantage dissipate in seconds.
You would have forgiven him for never wanting to set foot on the Sandwich course ever again after his infamous demise, but in 2011, the Dane finally got the chance to right the wrongs of eight years before.
He may not have won the tournament, but a fourth placed finish while avoiding any major bunker issues saw him succeed in his own personal battle that weekend. He only needed to look at Dustin Johnson to remind himself of how bad things can be.
The American looked set to mount a challenge on eventual winner Clarke as the final few holes of the weekend came into view, but as iron connected with ball on the 14th fairway, it quickly unravelled.
With his ball ending up out of bounds, Johnson’s march was halted, with his search for an elusive first major victory escaping him until 2016.
As the current world number five makes his return this year, he can take heart from the man he eventually finished one shot ahead of eight years ago. It’s time to put his St George’s jinx to the test.