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Open Insight

Champion Golfers


The trends of recent years at The Open

Shane Lowry poses with the Claret Jug after winning The 148th Open

Predicting who might win The Open from year to year is essentially an impossible task given the glorious unpredictability of golf’s original major.

However, an analysis of the experience, form, age and ranking of Champion Golfers of the Year does provide some illuminating insight into trends that have emerged.

Here are a number of statistics relating to the most recent Open victors, some of which may well surprise you.

From one extreme to another

You might expect Champion Golfers to have typically mounted a strong challenge in the preceding year’s Open, yet that has generally not been the case since Padraig Harrington retained the Claret Jug in 2008.

Seven of the last 14 Champion Golfers missed the cut in their previous Open outing, with a further five finishing between 30th and 47th in the year before they triumphed.

The exceptions to the trend, however, are two of the three most recent winners. Collin Morikawa had no previous form when he claimed victory on his maiden appearance at Royal St George’s in 2021, while last year’s Champion Golfer, Brian Harman, had also impressed at St Andrews in 2022, finishing tied-sixth.

Collin Morikawa kisses the Claret Jug after winning The 149th Open

Collin Morikawa, who became the Champion Golfer of the Year on debut at The 149th Open

Results of the last 23 Champions in their previous Open:

Tiger Woods: T7

David Duval: T11

Ernie Els: T3

Ben Curtis: N/A - Won on debut

Todd Hamilton - Missed Cut

Tiger Woods - T9

Tiger Woods - Won

Padraig Harrington - Missed Cut

Padraig Harrington - Won

Stewart Cink: Missed Cut

Louis Oosthuizen: Missed Cut

Darren Clarke: T44

Ernie Els: Missed Cut

Phil Mickelson: Missed Cut

Rory McIlroy: Missed Cut

Zach Johnson: T47

Henrik Stenson: T40

Jordan Spieth: T30

Francesco Molinari: Missed Cut

Shane Lowry: Missed Cut

Collin Morikawa: N/A - Won on debut

Cameron Smith: T33

Brian Harman: T6

The value of experience

Although many players have won following a disappointing Open outing the previous year, few triumph without having impressed in the Championship at some point in the past.

Seventeen of the last 23 Champion Golfers had recorded a top-10 finish at The Open prior to tasting glory in the Championship, with 10 out of 23 having placed in the top three prior to their win.

On average, those emerging victorious since 2000 have played in nine previous Championships before winning, although Ben Curtis and Morikawa famously won on their respective Open debuts in 2003 and 2021 respectively.

Pre-tournament form an increasing pointer to success

Recent history tells us a player’s form coming into The Open is a key indicator of their hopes of winning the Claret Jug.

In nine of the last 10 Opens, the Champion Golfer had recorded a top-three finish in at least one of his previous five events.

Phil Mickelson (2013) and Jordan Spieth (2017) both won The Open having also triumphed on their previous start, while Rory McIlroy (2014), Henrik Stenson (2016) and Francesco Molinari had all lifted trophies in the weeks leading up to their successes.

Of the four most recent Champions, only Cameron Smith (2022) had not challenged for a title in his previous five outings, with Shane Lowry (2019), Collin Morikawa (2021) and Brian Harman (2023) all claiming second-place finishes in the weeks leading up The Open.

Since 2000, 16 out of 23 Champions had already won at least once in the calendar year prior to their Open success.

Average ranking of Champions coming down

The average world ranking of Open Champions since 2000 is 37th, although this is skewed significantly by Curtis’ victory when he was the World Number 396.

Every winner since 2012 has been inside the top 40, while the average ranking of the last 10 victors is 13th.

Perhaps surprisingly, Tiger Woods is the only World Number One to prevail at The Open this century, doing so in 2000, 2005 and 2006.

Tiger Woods following his Open victory at Royal Liverpool in 2006

The average age of this century’s Champions is 33, with Spieth the youngest in 2017 at 23 and Mickelson the oldest when he lifted the Claret Jug aged 43 in 2013.


Age and world ranking of Open winners since 2000:

2000: Tiger Woods | WR 1 | Age 24

2001: David Duval | WR 7 | Age 29

2002: Ernie Els | WR 3 | Age 32

2003: Ben Curtis | WR 396 | Age 26

2004: Todd Hamilton | WR 56 | Age 38

2005: Tiger Woods | WR 1 | Age 29

2006: Tiger Woods | WR 1 | Age 30

2007: Padraig Harrington | WR 10 | Age 35

2008: Padraig Harrington | WR 14 | Age 36

2009: Stewart Cink | WR 33 | Age 36

2010: Louis Oosthuizen | WR 54 | Age 27

2011: Darren Clarke | WR 111 | Age 42

2012: Ernie Els | WR 40 | Age 42

Ernie Els celebrates winning The 141st Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes

Ernie Els celebrates winning The 141st Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes

2013: Phil Mickelson | WR 5 | Age 43

2014: Rory McIlroy | WR 8 | Age 25

2015: Zach Johnson | WR 25 | Age 39

2016: Henrik Stenson | WR 6 | Age 40

2017: Jordan Spieth | WR 3 | Age 23

2018: Francesco Molinari | WR 15 | Age 35

2019: Shane Lowry | WR 33 | Age 32

2021: Collin Morikawa | WR 4 | Age 24

2022: Cameron Smith | WR 6 | Age 28

2023: Brian Harman | WR 26 | Age 36

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