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History of The Open

Familiar faces


Golfers with the most appearances at The Open

Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player at The Open in 1974

All of the game’s greats have walked the fairways at The Open, but a select group of individuals have had the pleasure of featuring in golf’s original Championship more than anyone else.

We take a look at the seven players who have made the most appearances at The Open, a list topped by a man whose name is synonymous with golfing longevity.

7. Ben Sayers
35 appearances from 1878 to 1914

Sayers holds a place in the record books as the man to have played in the most Opens without lifting the Claret Jug.

The Scot certainly contended for glory on a number of occasions, recording 12 top-10 finishes between 1883 and 1904.

His closest call came at St Andrews in 1888 when he looked set to feature in a three-way play-off for the Claret Jug, only to be denied that opportunity in bizarre circumstances.

Sayers, Davie Anderson and Jack Burns all recorded the same aggregate total of 172 for two rounds, but scrutiny of the scorecards revealed the latter had actually shot 171.

Given Burns had signed for the correct score on each hole – and it was only the addition at fault – the player’s score was amended and he was declared the Champion.

Sayers was third the following year at Musselburgh, but he would never quite do enough to triumph. Nevertheless, his legacy as a player, teacher, course designer and manufacturer is a proud one.

6. Sir Nick Faldo
37 appearances from 1976 to 2015 - Champion Golfer in 1987, 1990 and 1992

Nick Faldo delivers a speech after winning The Open in 1990

Sir Nick Faldo delivers a speech after winning The Open at St Andrews in 1990

Faldo’s birthday typically falls on the week of The Open and the Englishman has had plenty to celebrate in his home major.

A three-time Champion Golfer of the Year, he made his Open debut as a teenager in 1976 and was tied-seventh just two years later at St Andrews.

Three successive top-eight finishes between 1982 and 1984 highlighted Faldo’s rich potential, but his first triumph in 1987 came only after he had worked on a comprehensive swing rebuild with his coach David Leadbetter for two years.

Victory at Muirfield totally justified Faldo’s faith in the process and he won again at the same venue five years later.

In between those triumphs came a dominant victory at the home of golf in 1990, where Faldo triumphed with a then-record score of 18-under-par.

Still competitive in his mid-forties, he would go on to finish T8 at Royal St George’s in 2003 and T11 at St Andrews in 2005, before making his final Open appearance at the Old Course in 2015.

3=. Sandy Herd
38 appearances from 1885 to 1933 - Champion Golfer in 1902

Harry Vardon, James Braid, Sandy Herd, Jack White, Arnaud Massy, George Duncan, Jim Barnes, Walter Hagen and Bill Mehlhorn

Sandy Herd (middle of back row) with a host of fellow Champions including James Braid and Harry Vardon

Herd’s first and last appearances at The Open came an extraordinary 48 years apart.

Eighth on only his second start in 1888, the St Andrews native went on to put together a remarkably consistent record in the Championship, placing inside the top 10 in 16 out of 21 Opens between 1892 and 1912.

That outstanding run was highlighted by victory for Herd at Royal Liverpool in 1902, as he edged out two members of the Great Triumvirate in James Braid and Harry Vardon.

By that stage, Herd had already finished second on two occasions – in 1892 and 1895 – and he would again be the runner-up in 1910 and in 1920, at the age of 52.

He was 65 when he made his final appearance at The Open, in his home town of St Andrews, in 1933.

3=. Jack Nicklaus
38 appearances from 1962 to 2005 - Champion Golfer in 1966, 1970 and 1978

The holder of so many golfing records, including an unprecedented haul of 18 majors, Nicklaus thrilled fans at The Open across five decades.

Almost immediately competitive on British soil, Nicklaus finished third and second respectively in 1963 and 1964 after making his debut in 1962.

He then achieved unparalleled consistency from 1966 to 1980, lifting the Claret Jug on three occasions but also finishing second a further six times and never finishing lower than sixth.

Muirfield was the site for the Golden Bear’s first Open triumph, before he won successive Opens at St Andrews in the 1970s to further enhance his standing among golf’s all-time greats.

The home of golf looked to have played host to Nicklaus’ final Open in 2000, but he returned for one more appearance in 2005 and signed off in sensational style, holing a birdie putt on the final green to rapturous applause.

Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson at the conclusion of the Duel in the Sun

Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson following the iconic Duel in the Sun

3=. Tom Watson
38 appearances from 1975 to 2015 - Champion Golfer in 1975, 1977, 1980, 1982 and 1983

Nobody on this list has enjoyed more success at The Open than Watson, whose haul of five Claret Jugs is bettered only by Vardon’s six.

Many of Watson’s finest moments in the Championship came early in his career, as he remarkably won on five of his first nine appearances, including a debut win at Carnoustie in 1975.

Just two years on from that maiden success, Watson came out on top in one of the all-time great golfing duels, beating Nicklaus by a shot at Turnberry in a battle that came to be known as the Duel in the Sun.

Further wins followed at Muirfield, Royal Troon and Royal Birkdale, while Watson was a close second to the irrepressible Seve Ballesteros at St Andrews in 1984.

Yet his most remarkable performance was still to come. On his return to Turnberry in 2009, a 59-year-old Watson defied all expectations with a masterful showing and held the lead with a single hole to play.

An unfortunate bogey at the last ensured he went into a play-off with Stewart Cink, which would be won by the younger man, but Watson had inspired millions by performing so impressively 34 years on from his first Open triumph.

Having partnered Nicklaus as the latter said farewell to The Open at St Andrews in 2005, Watson enjoyed a similarly emotional send-off at the same venue in 2015.

2. Sandy Lyle
43 appearances from 1974 to 2018 - Champion Golfer in 1985

A precocious talent, Lyle was just 16 when he made his Open debut at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1974.

Although he missed the next two Championships, a run of 42 successive appearances then followed from 1977 onwards.

Lyle was exempt up to his 60th birthday as a result of his success at Royal St George’s in 1985, where he ended a 16-year wait for a British Champion Golfer.

Somewhat surprisingly for a player of such rare ability, who was labelled “the greatest God-given talent in history” by none other than Ballesteros, Lyle recorded only two other top-10 finishes at The Open.

He was given the honour of hitting the opening tee shot in his final appearance at Carnoustie in 2018.

1. Gary Player
46 appearances from 1956 to 2001 - Champion Golfer in 1959, 1968 and 1974

Gary Player in front of the clubhouse at St Andrews

Gary Player, who played in 46 consecutive Opens from 1956 to 2001

Yes, of course. The man to have made the most Open appearances in history is ‘Mr Fitness’ himself, the great Gary Player.

The South African has not just played in more Opens than anyone else, his 46 starts all came in successive years as, remarkably, he did not miss a single Championship from 1956 to 2001.

Since World War II, he is the only man to have been crowned Champion Golfer of the Year in three different decades, courtesy of triumphs at Muirfield, Carnoustie and Royal Lytham & St Annes in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Still astonishingly fit today in his mid-eighties, Player made the cut at The Open for the final time aged 59 in 1995, before making his farewell appearance at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 2001.

By that stage he was also a three-time winner of the Senior Open, with a golfing legacy to rank among golf's greats.

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