Long before a ball was struck in The 150th Open at St Andrews, it was clear a week like no other was in prospect for golf’s original Championship.
In celebration of a landmark anniversary, this would be the biggest Open in history and a unique opportunity to reflect on the event’s unparalleled heritage and standing as a record crowd of 290,000 descended on the most iconic of venues.
For several months leading up to the Championship, The Open’s own channels focused on ‘The Journey’, shining a light on the many incredible players and moments who have made such an enduring impact since the event was first played in Prestwick way back in 1860.
‘Everything Has Led To This’ – the central message of this campaign – could be seen emblazoned on grandstands at the Old Course as the final preparations for Championship week were completed. The sense of anticipation was enormous.
By the time a reimagined Celebration of Champions took place on Monday, providing memories to last a lifetime for competitors and fans alike, things already felt extra special.
But there remained one question nobody could definitively answer. Would the Championship itself deliver the drama and theatre we all craved – and a finale fit for such a significant occasion.
Joyously, the answer was a resounding yes.
While the wind – that great uncontrollable - never picked up to the levels many would have hoped, a fast and firm Old Course with challenging pin positions made for plenty of entertaining action.
Pre-Championship predictions of scores in the low 60s and even high 50s proved fanciful. Scoring was low, for sure, but nobody bettered 64 across the week, meaning the record score in an Open at St Andrews remains 63 – achieved by Paul Broadhurst in 1990 and Rory McIlroy in 2010.
After Tiger Woods’ hugely emotional walk down 18 on Friday afternoon, it was McIlroy who lifted the atmosphere to new heights the following day as he charged into pole position.
The loudest roar of the week surely came when the Champion Golfer of 2014 holed a bunker shot for eagle on the 10th, sending spectators into a frenzy, and by the end of a thrilling third round McIlroy and Viktor Hovland were tied at the top on 16-under-par, four clear of their nearest challengers and seemingly set for a Sunday shootout.
However, if 149 previous editions of The Open have taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected. Three men would ultimately be in contention over the closing holes, with only one coming from the final group.
Hovland was simply unable to build any momentum in his last 18 and it gradually became clear the biggest threats to McIlroy were in the group ahead. Cameron Smith and Cameron Young had made the running for much of the week and both hit form at just the right time to bring about a thrilling three-horse race as the Championship moved to a conclusion.
McIlroy was still the front-runner heading into the back nine, having improved his score by one courtesy of a birdie on the fifth, and a second gain of the day came the leader’s way on the 10th.
Yet the Northern Irishman’s hopes of lifting the Claret Jug for a second time were dashed in extraordinary fashion as Smith put together a charge for the ages when it mattered most.
Winning The 150th Open at the home of golf is one thing but coming home in 30 with the aid of five successive birdies and a sixth on the final hole is something else.
Smith was simply phenomenal down the stretch, his brilliant, bogey-free 64 ensuring Young’s own fabulous effort – a 65 rounded off with a stunning eagle – was not quite enough.
Despite hitting all 18 greens in regulation on Sunday and keeping a clean card, McIlroy was left needing a two himself on the final hole to force a play-off. It was not to be.
Instead, victory went to a man who became the first in history to shoot two rounds of 64 or better in the same Open.
Smith’s surge for the winning post ranked alongside anything we have seen before in the Championship’s long and decorated history, a fitting end to a week that will live long in the memory.