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Open Insight

Varying routes to glory


The round-by-round positions of Champion Golfers

Jordan Spieth in the first round of The Open in 2017

It is often suggested that you cannot win a major championship on the first day of four, but you can most certainly lose one.

But just how important is a good start for players looking to be crowned the Champion Golfer of the Year? And where do Open winners tend to be placed after each round?

To find out, we have looked back at every Open since 2000 and tracked the round-by-round performances of the eventual Champions.


Second place better than first on day one?

Opening up a first-day lead may boost a player’s confidence, but it rarely leads to victory at The Open.

Only three of the last 20 Champion Golfers – Tiger Woods in 2005, Rory McIlroy in 2014 and Jordan Spieth in 2017 - led at the end of round one on their way to lifting the Claret Jug.

Tiger Woods at The Open in 2005

In addition, nobody since 2000 has gone on to win The Open after leading by more than one shot through 18 holes. Woods and McIlroy were one clear of their nearest rivals in 2005 and 2014 respectively, while Spieth was a co-leader on Thursday at Royal Birkdale four years ago.

It may be wise, however, to keep a close eye on anyone in second place after round one at Royal St George’s this year. Second is the most common first-round placing among the last 20 Champion Golfers, with Woods (2000 & 2006), Louis Oosthuizen (2010), Zach Johnson (2015) and Shane Lowry (2019) each occupying that position after their opening 18.

At the other end of the scale, six Champions since 2000 have won The Open having been outside the top 10 in round one, while Todd Hamilton and Padraig Harrington climbed up from 40th and 38th on the leaderboard respectively in 2004 and 2008.

Only one of the last 11 Champion Golfers ended round one of their victorious campaign outside the top 12, with Francesco Molinari rising from 18th at Carnoustie in 2018.

Francesco Molinari in action at Carnoustie in 2018

Francesco Molinari on his way to an opening round of 70 in 2018

Position after round one for Champion Golfers since 2000

2000: Tiger Woods - 2nd

2001: Tiger Woods - 5th

2002: Ernie Els - 23rd

2003: Ben Curtis - 13th

2004: Todd Hamilton - 40th

2005: Tiger Woods - 1st

2006: Tiger Woods - 2nd

2007: Padraig Harrington - 8th

2008: Padraig Harrington - 38th

2009: Stewart Cink - 5th

2010: Louis Oosthuizen - 2nd

2011: Darren Clarke - 6th

2012: Ernie Els - 3rd

2013: Phil Mickelson - 9th

2014: Rory McIlroy - 1st

2015: Zach Johnson - 2nd

2016: Henrik Stenson - 12th

2017: Jordan Spieth - 1st

2018: Francesco Molinari - 18th 

2019: Shane Lowry - 2nd

Shane Lowry on day one of The 148th Open

Shane Lowry finishes up a strong first round at Royal Portrush in 2019

Weekend comebacks galore

Nine of the last 20 Champions at The Open have led at the halfway stage at the Championship, but a host of players have been able to overcome significant deficits over the weekend.

In 2001 and 2012 respectively, David Duval and Ernie Els each found themselves seven shots off the pace after 36 holes, only to ultimately triumph.

And it was a similar story in 2018 at Carnoustie. Molinari dropped from a share of 18th to tied-29th in round two, leaving him six shots adrift of Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner, but the Italian was able to end the week on top.

Harrington also made up a six-shot gap over the final two rounds in 2007, while a further six Champion Golfers were at least three back with 36 holes to play.

Padraig Harrington poses with the Claret Jug at Carnoustie in 2007

Padraig Harrington, who came from behind to win The Open in 2007

Top-10 position on Saturday key

One statistic jumps out when analysing the third-round positions of recent Open Champions. Each of the last 20 winners of The Open have been inside the top 10 heading into the final round, and all but one have been placed sixth or higher..

Phil Mickelson provided the exception in 2013, when he began the final day at Muirfield tied for ninth, trailing Lee Westwood by five shots..

Two players have made up bigger gaps in terms of strokes since 2000, with Harrington and Ernie Els each coming from six behind in the final round in 2007 and 2012 respectively.

Yet even their stunning comebacks pale in comparison to Paul Lawrie's, the Champion Golfer of 1999, who famously overturned a record 10-shot deficit on the final day at Carnoustie.

Since Lawrie’s remarkable triumph, 12 out of 20 Open Champions have topped the leaderboard through 54 holes.

Paul Lawrie kisses the Claret Jug after winning The Open

Paul Lawrie kisses the Claret Jug after his sensational victory at Carnoustie

Sub-70 starts usually required

The last 20 Opens have produced winning totals ranging from three over par to 20 under, but there are nevertheless some common themes surrounding the scores of the Champions.

Fifteen of the last 20 Championships – and 10 of the last 11 - have been won by players who began the week with rounds in the 60s. Of the Champions who did not break 70 in round one, Harrington was the only one not to shoot 72 or better, and his opening-day 74 at Royal Birkdale in 2008 represented a perfectly good score in extremely windy conditions.

A final round in the 60s is also required more often than not in order to secure the Claret Jug - 14 of the last 20 Champion Golfers have broken 70 on the final day.

Henrik Stenson celebrates winning The Open at Royal Troon

Henrik Stenson celebrates winning The Open with a magnificent final-day 63

The average final-round score for those lifting the Claret Jug is 68.55 – identical to the average third-round score. The corresponding averages in round one and two are 68.1 and 68.9 respectively.

Lowry and Henrik Stenson are the two Champions this century to have managed scores of 63 on their way to victory. Apart from that, nobody has bettered a round of 65 when winning The Open since 2000.

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