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History of The Open

Royal Troon Revisited 2004


Hamilton holds off giants for shock win

Todd Hamilton celebrates winning The 133rd Open at Royal Troon

Todd Hamilton knew how to win long before he arrived at Royal Troon in 2004, but he had never been in a situation like this.

As the final round of The 133rd Open drew to a close, Hamilton – an 11-time champion on the Japan Golf Tour who had claimed his maiden PGA TOUR title earlier in the year – found himself in the tensest of battles with two greats of the game.

Ernie Els, who had lifted the Claret Jug at Muirfield two years earlier, and reigning Masters champion Phil Mickelson represented formidable opposition on Scotland’s west coast as the less-heralded Hamilton looked to take his career to new heights.

Few would have picked the underdog to prevail. Yet the 38-year-old from Galesburg, Illinois did just that.

Here is the story of Hamilton’s career-defining triumph.


A tale of two 3s for Els

To say Els was a consistent feature on Open leaderboards through the 2000s would be an understatement.

The Big Easy only finished outside the top eight twice in the decade and he was immediately in contention at Troon as he aimed to be crowned Champion Golfer of the Year for the second time in three years.

Ernie Els following his hole-in-one at Royal Troon in 2004

Ernie Els takes the plaudits after an opening-day ace at the Postage Stamp

Els’ first round was highlighted by a moment to remember on one of The Open’s most iconic holes. An ace at the short 8th, better known as the Postage Stamp, helped him to a two-under 69, but it could have been so much better had he not suffered badly on Troon’s final par-3.

After finding a tricky downhill lie at the back of a greenside bunker on the 17th, Els thinned his second shot into the face of the hazard and went on to make a costly double-bogey five.

“It wasn’t the most difficult shot I’ve ever had in my life. And I just messed it up,” said Els. “From such a highlight on 8 to such a lowlight on 17, it’s amazing.”

The first-day lead was instead shared by Paul Casey and the man Els beat in sudden-death at Muirfield in 2002, Thomas Levet. Both men carded 66s to sit two clear of eight players on three-under, including Scottish amateur Stuart Wilson.

Colin Montgomerie, a long-time member of Royal Troon, was alongside Els on two-under at the end of the opening round, while Tiger Woods shot 70 and Hamilton began his week with a level-par 71 to remain firmly under the radar.

That would soon change.


Kendall claims lead as major winners gather behind

Hamilton considerably improved his position on Friday, a stunning eagle two at the par-4 7th helping him to a four-under 67, but the second-day headlines were claimed by another American.

Skip Kendall matched Levet and Casey’s score from round one with a five-under 66 highlighted by a hole-out from a bunker at the 3rd.

Skip Kendall was the halfway leader at The 133rd Open

Skip Kendall following his second-round 66 at Troon

The performance lifted Kendall into sole possession of first place at seven-under, one ahead of Levet and two clear of KJ Choi and Barry Lane.

None of the top four at the halfway stage had tasted major glory, but there were plenty of big names ominously placed inside the top 10.

Els and Vijay Singh each joined Hamilton on four-under, along with Montgomerie and New Zealand’s Michael Campbell, while the group at three-under included Mickelson and Retief Goosen, the respective winners of the year’s first two men’s majors.

Mickelson had yet to record a top-10 finish in 11 previous appearances in golf’s original Championship, but the lavishly talented left-hander looked a different player after breaking his major duck at Augusta and he matched Kendall’s second-day 66 to leap into contention.


Hamilton takes top spot as weather turns

If Kendall and Levet were nervous ahead of round three, the halfway leaders were certainly not helped by a significant change in conditions.

Troon had offered a relatively benign test on the opening two days, but the arrival of wind and rain made things very different on Saturday and the weather was at its worst as the overnight leaders teed off.

Those in contention now faced a new challenge on a links exposed to the elements. As Kendall faded and Levet battled to remain in the hunt, it was no surprise to see several pedigree names rise to the occasion.

Els, Mickelson, Goosen and Woods each shot 68 to strengthen their respective challenges. Yet the best round of the day was put together by Hamilton, whose second successive 67 elevated him into pole position at eight-under.

Todd Hamilton during round three of The 133rd Open

Fans watch Todd Hamilton tee off on the 13th during the third round

This was not what anyone had expected and Hamilton, who had generally been in poor form since winning the Honda Classic in March, was as surprised as anyone.

“I actually don’t know what to feel,” said the shock leader in a news conference at the end of play.

“I’ve played so bad for so long. It’s very strange to be sitting in here commenting on my golf. Usually when I’m commenting on it it’s to my wife and my kids and it’s usually in an angry tone.”

All the focus was now on whether Hamilton – who had repeatedly used a hybrid around the green to brilliant effect – could follow in the footsteps of Ben Curtis, the unexpected Champion Golfer at Royal St George’s 12 months earlier.

With Els just one shot back, Mickelson, Goosen and Levet two off the pace and the imposing figure of Woods within four of the lead, a thrilling Sunday was in prospect.

It did not disappoint.


A seesaw Sunday

Playing together for the second day running, Hamilton and Els came under immediate pressure in a dramatic start to the final round.

After Hamilton had bogeyed the 2nd to concede sole possession of the lead, he and Els were leapfrogged by Levet and Mickelson, who both chipped in for eagles at the par-5 4th.

Phil Mickelson smiles after eagling the 4th hole at Royal Troon in the final round of The 133rd Open

Phil Mickelson's delight is clear following his eagle at the 4th

Levet could not sustain his challenge thereafter, while the likes of Goosen and Woods were unable to pose a threat.

Instead, it soon became apparent that this was a three-horse race, with Mickelson, Hamilton and Els trading birdies as all three men reached the turn on nine-under-par.

A painful double-bogey at the 10th left Els with much to do, but Hamilton responded to a bogey at the same hole with birdies at the 11th, 14th and 16th, putting victory within his grasp.

At 11-under with two to play, the overnight leader led Mickelson – who had completed his round  and a recovering Els by two, yet there was much more drama still to come.

Having picked up a crucial shot on 16 just to stay in the hunt, Els rose to the occasion once again on the 17th, holing a 15-foot birdie putt to narrow the gap to one.

Hamilton finally faltered with a sloppy bogey on the final hole, while Els produced two superb shots when he most needed them, leaving himself a 10-footer for birdie and the Championship.

After converting putts of similar lengths on 16 and 17, Els must have fancied his chances of sealing victory.

This attempt dropped low, however, meaning a play-off – over the 1st, 2nd, 17th and 18th  was required at The Open for the second time in three years.

Hamilton defies the odds

There was no doubting who the favourite was at the start of the extra holes.

Ernie Els and Todd Hamilton during the play-off in 2004

Els and Hamilton were forced into extra holes to determine the Champion Golfer of the Year

Els was a three-time major winner who had come through play-offs to win two of those titles, including The Open in 2002. What is more, the in-form world number two had finished regulation play strongly to keep alive his hopes of retaining the Claret Jug.

Hamilton, on the other hand, had never experienced pressure like this. And he also had to deal with the fact he had just bogeyed the 72nd hole when a par would have been enough to secure victory.

Everything seemed to point to an Els triumph and it was the South African who started the play-off the stronger, setting up a presentable birdie chance at the 1st.

Although that opportunity was spurned, Els remained the more likely winner in the eyes of many as both men completed successive pars. Yet at the third play-off hole, the par-3 17th, the contest surprisingly swung in Hamilton’s favour.

A fine tee shot from Hamilton raised the pressure on Els, who was then forced into a brief wait due to a plane taking off from nearby Prestwick Airport.

Whether the delay had any impact on Els, only he knows, but his response was an uncharacteristic tug to the left, which led to the most costly of bogeys.

As a result, Hamilton and Els again headed to the 18th tee with the former holding a one-shot advantage. The American would not be denied a second time.

Fittingly, it was Hamilton’s hybrid that delivered the decisive blow. The club had been utilised superbly throughout the week and was again called upon to cosy the ball up to around two feet after Hamilton had come up short of the green with his approach.

When Els then missed a birdie putt that was similar to the one he had on 18 in regulation play, Hamilton was left with what every golfer dreams of; a near tap-in to secure the Claret Jug.

Todd Hamilton lines up his putt to win The Open

Hamilton lines up his putt to win

“I’m glad it wasn’t double the length,” said the Champion, whose stoic demeanour gave way to a jubilant roar within seconds of the winning putt dropping.

Els and Mickelson each had Open successes to come, but this was Hamilton’s day.

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