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Open Insight

Champion Golfers


The trends of the last 20 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 certainly not been the case since Padraig Harrington retained the Claret Jug in 2008.

In fact, seven of the last 11 winners missed the cut in their previous Open outing, including the two most recent Champions, Francesco Molinari and Shane Lowry.

Since Harrington’s second successive Open victory, the Champion with the best performance in the year prior to their success was Jordan Spieth, who finished in a tie for 30th in 2016, 12 months before his triumph at Royal Birkdale.

Jordan Spieth on his way to victory in The 146th Open at Royal Birkdale

Results of the last 11 Champions in their previous Open:

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

The value of experience

Although many players have won in the year that followed a disappointing Open outing, few triumph without having been in contention for the Claret Jug at some point in the past.

Every Champion Golfer since Louis Oosthuizen in 2010 had previously finished in the top 10 at least once.

On average, Open winners since 2000 have played in nine previous Championships before tasting glory, although Ben Curtis famously won on his major debut at Royal St George’s in 2003.

Pre-tournament form an increasing pointer to success

In five of the last seven years, the Claret Jug has been claimed by a player who had won at least one of his previous five events in the build-up to the Championship.

Phil Mickelson and Spieth both won The Open having come into the tournament on the back of a victory elsewhere, while Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Molinari had all lifted trophies in the weeks leading up to their Open triumphs.

Since 2000, 70% of Open winners had already managed to record at least one win earlier in the calendar year.

The last player to claim their first win of the year at The Open was Zach Johnson, the Champion Golfer in 2015 at St Andrews.

A flurry of experienced winners

The average age of Champion Golfers in the 21st century is 33, but five of the last nine winners (Darren Clarke, Ernie Els, Mickelson, Johnson and Stenson) were between 39 and 43 years old when lifting the Claret Jug.

Since 2000, the average ranking of an Open Champion is 41st, although this is skewed significantly by Curtis’ triumph when he was the World Number 396. Every winner since Clarke in 2011 has been inside the top 40, while the average ranking of the last seven victors is 14th.

Tiger Woods is the only World Number One to prevail at The Open in the last 20 years, doing so in 2000, 2005 and 2006.

Tiger Woods following his Open victory at Royal Liverpool in 2006

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

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

Shane Lowry, the Champion Golfer at The 148th Open, walks up the 18th at Royal Portrush

Intriguingly, the last two winners at Royal St George’s, Curtis and Clarke, are the only players in the last 20 years to have won The Open when ranked outside the world’s top 100.

It remains to be seen whether that trend, or any of those mentioned above, will continue when the Championship next takes place on the Kent coastline in July.