Everything has led to this.
As The 150th Open at St Andrews draws ever closer, our Decades of The Open series continues to celebrate the remarkable journey of golf and its original Championship.
You can read up on 14 decades of Open history via the links below.
Our latest article focuses on the 2000s, a decade that featured the first four-man play-off in the Championship’s long history, a pair of shock wins in successive years and back-to-back victories for two different players.
A trio of titles for Tiger
Tiger Woods’ rare talent had been abundantly clear prior to the turn of the century, but it was in the 2000s where he truly made his mark on The Open.
At St Andrews in 2000, Woods produced the Championship’s most dominant post-war performance, surging to victory by eight strokes with a record total of 19 under par to complete the career Grand Slam at the age of 24.
A return to the Old Course five years later brought another emphatic victory, Woods going wire-to-wire on this occasion and triumphing by five, and there was a third title for Tiger at Royal Liverpool in 2006 as he held off Chris DiMarco and became the first player since Tom Watson in 1983 to successfully defend the Claret Jug.
Success at Hoylake was an emotional one for Woods, given it was his first Major Championship win since the death of his father and mentor, Earl, two months earlier.
With three victories in the space of seven Opens, Tiger matched the number of titles claimed by fellow modern-day greats Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo.
David Duval was a convincing winner at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 2001, superb weekend rounds of 65 and 67 lifting the American three clear of nearest rival Niclas Fasth, but The 131st Open at Muirfield 12 months later ended in much more dramatic fashion.
This was an Open that had everything, not least some of the worst weather seen at the Championship on a Saturday that saw Woods and Colin Montgomerie among those who failed to break 80.
Ernie Els was two shots clear heading into the final round, but the Big Easy was dramatically overhauled early on Sunday asthe unheralded figure of Gary Evans charged into the lead before experiencing the wildest of ends to his Championship, featuring a lost ball on the 71st hole, an extraordinary up-and-down from over 250 yards and a closing bogey that ultimately cost him a place in a play-off.
That play-off contained four players as Thomas Levet, Stuart Appleby and Steve Elkington all capitalised on a nervy finish from Els, who had appeared in control with a handful of holes to play.
After four extra holes, Els and Levet could still not be separated but the South African – who produced two magical bunker shots at key junctures – eventually got over the line after the first sudden-death hole, bringing an end to one of the most action-packed days in Open history.
Curtis and Hamilton confound expectations
Woods, Duval and Els were already established at the very top of the world game when they lifted the Claret Jug, but the same could not be said of the Champion of 2003.
Even the most ardent golf fans may have struggled to recognise Ben Curtis when the world number 396 teed off in round one, but the 26-year-old from Columbus, Ohio went on to produce a seismic sporting shock.
Royal St George’s had looked set to play host to a Thomas Bjorn triumph, only for the Dane to falter down the stretch, his most painful moment when he required three attempts to escape a greenside bunker on the 16th hole.
As a result, victory went to Curtis, who had birdied six of the first 11 holes and holed a crucial par-saver on 18 after enduring troubles of his own on the back nine.
The following year, another unfancied American sprung a shock. Todd Hamilton was inside the world’s top 60 and had enjoyed plentiful success on the Japan Golf Tour, yet it was still a huge surprise when the 38-year-old got the better of 2002 Champion Els in a play-off to win at Royal Troon.
Harrington doubles up
No Open at Carnoustie could realistically be expected to match the drama of 1999, when Paul Lawrie produced a fabulous finish to triumph in a play-off after Jean van de Velde’s extraordinary triple-bogey on the 72nd hole.
Yet when The Open returned to Angus in 2007, fans were treated to another absorbing finish involving two of Europe’s biggest names.
Argentina’s Andres Romero initially stole the show on Sunday with a scarcely believable 10 birdies, but he was left to rue dropping three shots over Carnoustie’s fiendish final two holes as he finished one shot out of a play-off.
The extra holes were subsequently contested by two men who had experienced contrasting emotions on the 18th in regulation play. Padraig Harrington twice found the Barry Burn before getting up and down for a double-bogey six, while Sergio Garcia came within a whisker of converting a 10-foot par putt that would have secured the Claret Jug, his ball lipping out when it appeared destined for the cup.
Garcia’s missed opportunity proved costly as Harrington prevailed in the play-off to become The Open’s first winner from either side of the Irish border since Fred Daly 60 years earlier.
Buoyed by his maiden Major Championship success, Harrington then won again at Royal Birkdale in 2008, when a magnificent 5-wood on the 71st hole all but sealed his victory. On a tremendously windy week on England’s north-west coast, not a single player finished under par, while the 54-hole lead was held by 53-year-old Greg Norman, who finished in a tie for third.
Cink triumphs as Watson amazes
If Norman’s impressive bid for glory in his 50s caught the eye, an even more spectacular storyline unfolded at Turnberry in the final Open of the decade.
The Championship of 2009 was won by Stewart Cink but even the Champion could acknowledge the understandable interest in the man who finished second. At the age of 59, Tom Watson mounted a sensational challenge for glory and reached the 72nd hole requiring a par to secure a record-equalling sixth Open title, 26 years after his fifth victory.
Watson’s approach to the final green was bang on line, just as it had been when he memorably secured victory in the Duel in the Sun at Turnberry in 1977, but the ball bounced through the green and he was unable to get down in two.
Cink proved too strong in the subsequent extra holes as he cantered to victory by six, yet Watson’s inspirational performance remains one of the most memorable in the Championship’s recent history.
The Champion Golfers of the 2000s
Did You Know?
After a period of 23 years without a successful Championship defence, Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington both became back-to-back Champions over the course of four successive Opens. No player has won back-to-back Open titles since Harrington’s wins in those latter two years.
Average age of Champion Golfers in the 2000s: 32
Nationalities of Champion Golfers in the 2000s: Five Americans (Woods, Duval, Curtis, Hamilton, Cink), one South African (Els), one Irishman (Harrington).