Royal Birkdale: Southport's masterpiece
If a golf course is judged on its list of Open winners then Royal Birkdale takes some beating.
Thomson, Palmer, Trevino, Watson and Spieth reads like a who’s who of golf and all have tasted success on the pristine Southport links, only adding to its reputation as one of the finest Open venues on the rota.
With monstrous par-fives, dangerous par-threes, thick rough and bunkers galore it is no wonder the course has such a sterling reputation – which has no doubt contributed to the fact that only St Andrews has hosted The Open on more occasions since Royal Birkdale was first introduced in 1954.
Birkdale’s history dates back to 1889 but it was only when the course was re-designed in 1922 by Fred Hawtree and JH Taylor that the layout we are so familiar with today was crafted.
In 1954, that was displayed to the world as The Open went to Southport for the first time and proved to be popular with one of the greatest ever links players.
The Open can define a player’s career and for Peter Thomson, his love affair with golf’s oldest major began at Royal Birkdale.
The Australian is one of five men to have become Champion Golfer of the Year on five occasions – the first of which came in 1954.
After a first-round 71, the 23-year-old gradually ascended the leaderboard, moving into a share of the lead following Friday morning’s third round.
Level with Dai Rees and Syd Scott, he kept his cool in the final round – firing a nerveless 71 to win by a shot.
Thomson would return 11 years later and win again, his first and final Open crown both coming at Royal Birkdale.
Few players are as synonymous with The Open as Tom Watson, the genial American who, like Thomson, would go on and become a five-time Champion Golfer of the Year.
The 112th Open at Royal Birkdale was historic for many reasons. It marked Watson’s final major win, matched Thomson’s achievement from 18 years earlier and saw him become the first man in a decade to defend the Claret Jug.
But Royal Birkdale has a knack for providing drama at every turn and The 112th Open is remembered just as much for Hale Irwin as it is for Watson.
During Saturday’s third round, Irwin went to tap in on the par-three 14th but incredibly missed the ball and hit an air shot. He lost by one.
Quote of the day from five-time Champion Golfer of the Year, Tom Watson. pic.twitter.com/uXMnLCr0Fx— The Open (@TheOpen) 25 April 2016
Watson then stole the show. He led the Championship through 54 holes but a sloppy start on Sunday saw him fall behind England’s Nick Faldo.
With the gallery praying for a home winner, Watson needed to dig in. He birdied the 11th, 13th and 16th holes to regain control down the back nine and by the time he reached the 18th, the Claret Jug was virtually his again.
With 218 yards to the flag on his second shot, Watson launched a two-iron with all his might and sent it perfectly into the heart of the green.
“I busted that 2-iron as well as I could hit it,” he said, after two-putting to win.
The battle of Birkdale
By its tenth staging of The Open, Royal Birkdale thought it had seen it all on the eve of The 146th Open in 2017.
But then Jordan Spieth and Matt Kuchar produced one of the great battles in golf history.
After three largely flawless rounds, Spieth was in charge and seemingly strolling for his first Claret Jug.
But he bogeyed three of his first four holes and that opened the door for Kuchar to pull level. What then unfolded was an afternoon of pure sporting theatre as the two exchanged blows hole-by-hole.
On the 13th, Spieth blazed a shot into the rough and was forced to take an unplayable lie and drop into the practice area.
His recovery shot was superb and he saved bogey, injecting some momentum which he used to play four near-perfect holes. He nearly holed his tee shot at 14 and tapped in for birdie, fired an eagle at 15 and further birdies on 16 and 17.
He took a two-shot lead down the last and his par cemented a three-shot win. He later donated a signed replica of the three-iron that helped him produce that superb recovery on the 13th