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 2010s, a decade that featured breathless comebacks, home champions and a head-to-head to rival the famous Duel in the Sun.
Not a dry eye in the house
St Andrews was a fitting venue for the 150th anniversary of The 1st Open and Louis Oosthuizen put in a performance worthy of the occasion to kick-start the decade.
The South African was a convincing winner in 2010, with opening rounds of 65 and 67 setting him on the way to a comfortable seven-shot victory.
But while Oosthuizen was the class of the field and coasted to the Claret Jug, the rest of the decade was fraught with Sunday tension.
Nothing captures the imagination quite like The Open, its plots and storylines bubbling for three days before reaching a Sunday crescendo. And no player has epitomised the highs and lows quite like Darren Clarke.
A Ryder Cup legend, his place in the nation’s affections were long assured and his happy-go-lucky personality endeared him even more.
But at 42, Clarke’s best days were supposedly behind him and he seemed destined to forever be a bridesmaid on the biggest stage, with near-misses in 1997 and 2001.
Yet in tough weather conditions, Clarke’s know-how came to the fore. Three rounds in the 60s helped him to a one-stroke lead at the wet and windy Royal St George’s heading into the final round in 2011.
Five years on from the death of his wife Heather, the goodwill towards Clarke was inspiring and in the face of intense pressure from Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, he held on to become the oldest Champion Golfer in 44 years and the oldest debut major winner.
Golden oldies roll back the years
Clarke was the first of three consecutive 40-somethings to win the Claret Jug in the 2010s, as The Open continued to remind us there is no substitute for experience.
A year on from Clarke’s feel-good victory, The Open showed us what can happen when the nerves set in.
Australia’s Adam Scott was the class of the field for three-and-a-half days at Royal Lytham & St Annes and was cruising towards his first Claret Jug. He led by four shots from Ernie Els as he walked onto the 15th tee, four holes from home, but then begun one of the most dramatic endings in the Championship’s long history.
Scott bogeyed the 15th and 16th to fall to eight-under par, only two shots clear of his challenger, Els, seeking a second Claret Jug to go alongside his 2002 title.
The South African was six shots adrift when he teed off on Sunday morning, but when he rolled in a birdie at 18, he was just one stroke behind.
Scott had it all to lose and unfortunately he unravelled down the stretch, recording further bogeys at 17 and 18 to lose by one. Els, who remained cool under the pressure, scooped up his second Claret Jug aged 42.
That was a year younger than his successor, with Phil Mickelson – at the 20th attempt – finally becoming the Champion Golfer of the Year.
The American stormed through the field at Muirfield in 2013 with a breathless 66, overcoming a five-shot deficit to Lee Westwood and winning by three.
Since he burst onto the scene in 2007 and won the Silver Medal at Carnoustie, Rory McIlroy always seemed destined to become Champion Golfer of the Year.
His 2010 third-placed finish aside, McIlroy struggled to find the right formula on the links in his early career but he cracked the code spectacularly in 2014.
The fans at Royal Liverpool were treated to a McIlroy masterclass as he took the lead on day one and held it all the way to the 72nd hole to win by two shots. Rounds of 66, 66, 68 and 71 were bookmarked by booming drives, perfect pitches and deadly putts, as he emulated his countryman Clarke.
Injury meant he could not defend his title the following year as The Open swung back to St Andrews, but 2015 did not lack for drama.
A rare Monday finish – just the second in Open history – was needed after battering winds and heavy rain forced the Championship to be suspended twice.
Yet the golf on show was enough to warm the cockles, as Zach Johnson emerged victorious from a three-man play-off with Marc Leishman and Louis Oosthuizen, to become just the sixth man in history to have won The Masters at Augusta and The Open at St Andrews.
A stunning duel
A year on and the drama kept on coming. It’s difficult not to overhype the final day of The 145th Open when Tom Watson himself described the battle between Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson as better than his own legendary battle against Jack Nicklaus.
Stenson and Mickelson played the kind of golf that made spectators laugh out loud and thank their lucky stars they were there to see it.
Royal Troon was the setting for the all-time classic as Stenson and Mickelson went at it on a red-hot final day. Stenson had a one-shot advantage but saw that evaporate with a bogey at the first. Birdies at five of the next eight holes soon calmed him down, however.
After the 13th, they were still tied but Stenson then reeled off three straight birdies – including a sensational 51-footer from off the 15th green to take a two-shot lead.
He carried that to the last and while Mickelson chucked all he had at the Swede, Stenson dropped another birdie to finish on -20 – the lowest score in Championship history.
His 63 was two better than Mickelson’s 65, with the American three shots back. Third-placed JB Holmes was 14 strokes behind…
How do you follow an Open Sunday like that? Well, Jordan Spieth made a good fist of it the following year.
The American ace trailed his compatriot Matt Kuchar by one shot when they left the 13th green but went on an incredible run of three birdies and an eagle in the next four holes to have Royal Birkdale dancing to his tune.
He was also in the mix a year later, as Carnoustie returned to host golf’s original Championship – but the attention was all on Tiger Woods.
In his first Open for three years, Woods had the gallery in the palm of his hand when he took the lead on Championship Sunday but he was ultimately beaten by his playing partner, Francesco Molinari – who stole the show to become the first Italian to win the Claret Jug.
Royal Portrush’s return to The Open rota was an emotional one and the Antrim links was picture-perfect for its first Open in 68 years.
Home favourite McIlroy missed the cut, as did the ever-popular Woods. But that disappointment was quickly forgotten as Irishman Shane Lowry put together the best four days of his life.
Lowry’s breath-taking 63 on Saturday broke the course record and opened up a four-stroke lead he would never relinquish, eventually winning by six from Tommy Fleetwood. It was a fitting end to a fine decade.
The Champion Golfers of the 2010s
Did you Know?
Henrik Stenson’s closing 63 at The 145th Open shaved one shot off the previous record for the lowest last round ever recorded by a winner of The Open, which had been set by Greg Norman when he carded a 64 at Royal St George’s in 1993.
Average age of Champion Golfers in the 2000s: 35
Nationalities of Champion Golfers in the 2010s: Three Americans (Mickelson, Johnson, Spieth), two Northern Irishmen (Clarke, McIlroy), two South Africans (Oosthuizen, Els), one Swede (Stenson), one Italian (Molinari), one Irishman (Lowry)