Skip to main content
The 150th Open

Decades of The Open


The 1990s

Nick Faldo at The Open in 1990

Everything has led to this.

With less than two months to go until The 150th Open at St Andrews, our Decades of The Open series continues to celebrate the remarkable journey of golf and its original Championship.

You can read up on 13 decades of Open history via the links below.

1860s | 1870s | 1880s | 1890s | 1900s | 1910s | 1920s | 1930s | 1940s | 1950s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s

Our latest article focuses on the 1990s, a decade that produced a host of hugely dramatic finishes and two iconic moments from players who missed out on the Claret Jug.


Faldo joins the greats

Having ended the long wait for an English Champion Golfer in 1987, Nick Faldo firmly established himself among The Open’s greats in the early 1990s.

In the first Open of the new decade at St Andrews, Faldo produced a truly commanding display, surging clear of his great rival Greg Norman in their much-anticipated third-round showdown and going on to win by five strokes.

Two years later, he again built a healthy lead through 54 holes at Muirfield, the site of his maiden Open triumph. Though he then came under severe pressure from John Cook, the American faltered when it mattered most while Faldo saved his best for the closing holes as he secured the Claret Jug for the third time in six years.

Faldo also excelled at Royal St George’s in 1993, but the defending Champion had to settle for second on that occasion as Norman finished in style with a 64 to earn his second Open victory.


Third-time lucky for Baker-Finch and Price

The year between Faldo’s second and third Open wins provided a heart-warming case of third-time lucky for Ian Baker-Finch.

The Australian had made a remarkable impact on his Championship debut in 1984 at St Andrews, where he led by three at the halfway stage and remained in a share of first through 54 holes before slipping back to ninth.

On his return to the Home of Golf in 1990, he was again in the final pairing on Sunday, albeit he began the day five shots behind runaway leader Faldo and was powerless to prevent the Englishman from surging to glory.

At Royal Birkdale the following year, however, Baker-Finch showed he was more than capable of staying the course for all four rounds.

A brilliant 64 lifted him into a share of the lead with 18 holes to play and Baker-Finch then turned in 29 in the final round, giving him a healthy cushion that he converted into victory.

Ian Baker-Finch at The Open in 1991

The Champion of 1994 was another player who had repeatedly knocked on the door at The Open. Nick Price was second to Tom Watson in 1982 and the runner-up to Seve Ballesteros in 1988.

At Turnberry for The 123rd Open it looked as though Price would again come up agonisingly short as Jesper Parnevik hit the front late on Sunday.

Yet a spectacular eagle putt from Price on the 71st green turned the Championship on its head and a closing par was enough for the Zimbabwean after Parnevik finished with a bogey.


Rocca’s miracle, Daly’s Championship

Four years on from his shock victory at the 1991 PGA Championship, John Daly provided further evidence of his rare talent by triumphing in The 124th Open at St Andrews.

With his famed power and delicate touch around the greens, ‘The Wild Thing’ coped best with the windy conditions that made scoring difficult.

However, the most memorable moment of the week undoubtedly belonged to Costantino Rocca, as the Italian forced his way into a play-off with Daly in the most remarkable fashion.

Needing a birdie three at the last to tie Daly, Rocca looked to have blown his chance when he duffed his second shot – a relatively routine pitch - into the Valley of Sin guarding the front of the green.

What followed however was astonishing, as Rocca drained a 65-foot putt to prompt scenes of jubilation and extend the Championship by four holes.

Costantino Rocca celebrates his mircaulous putt on the 18th green at St Andrews in 1995

It was ultimately not enough for Rocca as Daly proved too good in the subsequent play-off, but both men had cemented their place in Open history.


Four in a row for the USA

Daly was the first American to triumph since Mark Calcavecchia in 1989, but each of the next three years also produced Champion Golfers from the United States.

Tom Lehman held on to win by two at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1996, having been six clear with 18 holes to play, while Justin Leonard came from five behind at Royal Troon the following year – a final-day 65 securing victory for the affable American, who charmed many with his humble winner’s speech.

The Championship of 1998 was lit up by 17-year-old English amateur Justin Rose, whose stunning holed pitch shot at the last earned a share of fourth place along with the Silver Medal. Yet the USA again took the biggest prize, with Mark O’Meara edging out Brian Watts in a play-off after both men had finished one clear of Tiger Woods.


A Carnoustie classic

The Open has produced countless dramatic moments through the decades, but there has arguably never been a more intense finale than the one that occurred at Carnoustie in 1999.

On the final afternoon of a Championship that produced unusually high scoring due to a combination of narrow fairways, penal rough and windy conditions, the unheralded Van de Velde initially held his nerve superbly to secure a three-shot lead as he reached the final tee.

Then came the most painful and shocking of collapses. Van de Velde narrowly avoided the infamous Barry Burn with a wayward drive and even more erratic second shot, but then chunked his third into the water hazard before removing his shoes and socks and climbing into the water with a view to an unlikely escape act.

Jean van de Velde considers whether to play from the Barry Burn at Carnoustie in 1999

Common sense eventually prevailed – to the relief of millions watching around the world – but the Frenchman ultimately had to produce a superb up-and-down from a greenside bunker just to card a triple-bogey seven, earning him a place in a play-off with Paul Lawrie and Leonard.

Lawrie had been 10 shots behind entering the final round, but the Scot’s magnificent 67 yielded unexpected rewards thanks to Van de Velde’s woes on the last hole. A wonderful birdie-birdie finish in the play-off secured a popular home victory and Lawrie, who had to come through qualifying to book his place at Carnoustie, remains the last Scotsman to have lifted the Claret Jug.


The Champion Golfers of the 1990s

1990, St Andrews – Nick Faldo

1991, Royal Birkdale – Ian Baker-Finch

1992, Muirfield – Nick Faldo

1993, Royal St George’s – Greg Norman

1994, Turnberry – Nick Price

1995, St Andrews – John Daly

1996, Royal Lytham & St Annes – Tom Lehman

1997, Royal Troon – Justin Leonard

1998, Royal Birkdale – Mark O’Meara

1999, Carnoustie – Paul Lawrie


Did You Know?

Paul Lawrie won £350,000 for his victory in 1999, more than four times the amount Nick Faldo received (£85,000) for his win at St Andrews just nine years earlier. And by 2002, the winner's prize had doubled again to £700,000.


Average age of Champion Golfers in the 1990s: 33


Nationalities of Champion Golfers in the 1990s: Four Americans (Daly, Lehman, Leonard, O’Meara), two Australians (Baker-Finch, Norman), one Englishman (Faldo), one Zimbabwean (Price), one Scotsman (Lawrie).

More from The Open