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History of The Open

Biggest comebacks at The Open


Duncan, Vardon and Lawrie

Paul Lawrie with the Claret Jug

If the rich history of The Open tells us one thing, it is never to rule anyone out of contention until it is literally impossible for them to prevail.

Over the years, a host of players have made stirring comebacks to claim the Claret Jug, a prime example coming as recently as July when Cameron Smith came from four strokes behind on the final day to win The 150th Open with a closing 64 that featured six back-nine birdies.

Smith’s Sunday charge was hugely impressive, but the three biggest comebacks in Open history have seen far greater deficits overcome.

The most unlikely triumph surely came back in 1920, in one of only two Opens to have been staged at Royal Cinque Ports.

George Duncan was a whopping 13 strokes behind leader Abe Mitchell after 36 holes, but the fortunes of the former were transformed after he purchased a new driver from the Exhibition Tent at the course.

A superb 71 the following morning lifted Duncan up to fourth, a position he incredibly shared with Mitchell after the previous runaway leader slumped to a painful 84.

Having stormed into contention, Duncan then held his nerve with a final-round 72, which proved enough to win by two shots from Sandy Herd as Mitchell finished fourth.

George Duncan, the Champion Golfer of 1920

George Duncan, the Champion Golfer of 1920

More than 100 years on from his dramatic success, Duncan remains the last man to win a Major Championship with a round in the 80s, while he also holds the record for the largest deficit overturned in The Open.

Six-time Champion Golfer Harry Vardon is responsible for the biggest comeback after 18 holes of an Open.

The Jerseyman was 11 shots adrift of Herd after round one at Muirfield in 1896, but ultimately prevailed following a 36-hole play-off against JH Taylor.

While Duncan and Vardon’s remarkable recoveries came over a century ago, the biggest final-round comeback in Open history was achieved in 1999 by Paul Lawrie.

On a truly incredible final day at Carnoustie, Lawrie teed off 10 shots off the pace but surged up the leaderboard courtesy of a magnificent 67 in challenging conditions.

That superb performance did not look likely to be enough as long-time leader Jean van de Velde reached the final tee holding a three-stroke advantage, but the Frenchman famously finished with a triple-bogey seven, meaning he joined Lawrie and Justin Leonard in a four-hole play-off.

Lawrie then saved his best work for when it mattered most, birdieing Carnoustie’s fiendishly tough 17th and 18th holes to win the play-off in style and complete the most unlikely of comebacks.

Paul Lawrie, Jean van de Velde and Justin Leonard

Paul Lawrie, Jean van de Velde and Justin Leonard at Carnoustie in 1999

Biggest comebacks by Open Champions

After 18 holes: Harry Vardon, 1896, 11 strokes behind the leader

After 36 holes: George Duncan, 1920, 13 strokes behind the leader

After 54 holes: Paul Lawrie, 1999, 10 strokes behind the leader

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