Birkdale Moments: Three memorable shots from the Southport links
Each of the courses used to stage The Open has witnessed feats of pure brilliance over the years. Some shots almost become the stuff of legend, woven into the fabric of the game, the history of the Championship and the courses on which they were achieved.
Here are three of the greatest moments at Royal Birkdale:
Arnold Palmer - 1961
After coming agonisingly close to claiming the Claret Jug for the first time at The Open at St Andrews in 1960, Arnold Palmer was not about to let an opportunity slip a second time around. At the Home of Golf, Palmer had been beaten into second place by Australia’s Kel Nagle, losing by a single stroke. At a weather-beaten Royal Birkdale a year later, however, it was his turn to hold on for an equally narrow victory over Welshman Dai Rees.
If a moment summed up Palmer’s utter fearlessness it came in the final round on what was then the 15th hole and is now the 16th. A wayward drive left the ball lying at the bottom of a small, sandy bank and buried beneath blackberry bushes. While some players would have opted to knock the ball back on to the fairway and take their chances from there, this was not in Palmer’s make-up. He was three holes from home and was not about to surrender the momentum. So, taking a six-iron, he swung as hard at the ball as was humanly possible. “I cut enough hay to feed the cows for a year,” he was later to recall. “The ball came flying out very well, landed on the front of the green (around 150 yards away) and rolled up about 15 feet from the hole."
Such was the impact of the shot that a plaque now marks the spot. Michael McDonnell, the golf correspondent of the Daily Mail, wrote: "Not even a tornado could have wrenched it (the ball) free so cleanly. Some would swear afterwards that the ground shook beneath them as Palmer's club cleaved that bush from his path. Or maybe it was just the gods groaning their surrender, because Palmer was free of them at last and could proceed to his first Open title."
Justin Rose - 1998
This was the year that a pencil-thin Justin Rose, a 17-year-old amateur no less, announced himself to the world by finishing in a tie for fourth in his maiden appearance at The Open. Rose may have caught the attention of the galleries with superb opening rounds of 72 and 66, but it was the way he signed off at the 72nd hole that will be forever remembered. Standing in wispy rough 50 yards from his target, Rose played an exquisite pitch shot that landed on the green, bounced a couple of times and rolled inexorably towards the hole. As the ball disappeared below ground the cheer that went up was said to be the loudest ever heard on a golf course. The picture of the young man, arms out wide and eyes raised to the heavens, remains one of golf’s iconic images.
“When Justin holed out on the 18th with that chip the noise from the grandstand was deafening,” said Jim Furyk, his playing partner that day. “He'd been great all day, really bearing up well in what was a very tense atmosphere and a very close run-in. What a remarkable thing to do at that age. Can you imagine how that feels? Standing there, watching that ball disappear with all those fans standing and clapping? I'll certainly never forget how they and he responded.”
Padraig Harrington – 2008
There have been only 16 back-to-back winners of The Open in its long and storied history, the last of them being Padraig Harrington, whose stupendous victory at Royal Birkdale came a year after he claimed the Claret Jug at Carnoustie in a play-off against Sergio Garcia. The Irishman, who started the final round trailing Greg Norman by two shots, came through to win by four strokes from runner-up Ian Poulter, who set a clubhouse lead of seven over par after a sparkling 69, and six shots from Norman and Henrik Stenson who finished tied for third.
Harrington trailed Norman by one after turning in 37 but came home in a scintillating 32, with the shot of the Championship – and his career - coming at the par-five 17th. Holding a lead of two strokes after playing the 16th, Harrington found the middle of the fairway at the 17th and elected to go for the green rather than protect his lead by laying up short with an iron and chipping on. Such was his confidence that he had no fear at all standing over the ball, which was on a downslope 249 yards short of the target. Taking his favourite club, a five-wood, he struck a low, long approach that landed just short of the green then rolled to within a few feet of the hole. From there, he sank the eagle putt and walked to the 18th tee secure in the knowledge that he had retained the Claret Jug.
Bob Torrance, Harrington’s wily coach, described the approach to the 17th green as “the best shot I ever saw”. Asked why he hadn’t taken the easier option, Harrington explained that he had wanted to maintain his momentum. “I was anxious that Greg could make eagle going down there so I wanted to take it on,” he said. “I used the downslope in my favour and it came out nice and low. Once I hit it, it was perfect. I would have been quite happy with it on the green and take my chances with two putts."