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The 152nd Open



What we can learn from the performances of the last 10 Open Champions

Brian Harman

There is no set formula to being crowned Champion Golfer of the Year – and even if there was, the forces of nature would do their best to throw a spanner in the works.

A look back at the last 10 Open winners reveals there are several ways to skin this particular links cat. Some have led from the front, others have emerged from nowhere, but there are several trends developing among those who lift the Claret Jug…

Cameron Smith kiss

Blemishes becoming fewer

The Open is among golf’s toughest tests and the odd blip on the scorecard is inevitable. But margins for error are becoming ever fewer in recent years.

Every winner between Phil Mickelson in 2013 and Shane Lowry in 2019 made at least seven bogeys, while ‘Lefty’ even carded two double bogeys on his way to victory at Muirfield, winning on three-under as the only player in the red.

By contrast, the three ‘post-Covid’ Opens have rewarded models of consistency. Collin Morikawa made just four bogeys at Royal St George’s in 2021, while Cameron Smith carded only two bogeys and a double the following year.

Reigning Champion Brian Harman dropped just six shots – all bogeys – on his march to victory at a damp Royal Liverpool last time out. In this context, every tricky par save becomes increasingly pivotal – particularly as the number of birdies scored by Champion Golfers is remaining fairly steady.

Henrik Stenson made 25, and an eagle, on his way to a 20-under-par score last time the Championship was staged at Royal Troon, while Mickelson’s 16 in 2013 is the fewest number of birdies recorded of the last ten Champion Golfers.

Jordan Spieth, Francesco Molinari and Harman all carded 17, though Spieth’s tally was boosted by two eagles when he lifted the Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale in 2017.

Jordan Spieth on his way to victory in The 146th Open at Royal Birkdale

Leaderboard position can vary

A good start is naturally important but the position on the leaderboard after day one – or even at the halfway stage – is not necessarily make-or-break.

The last 10 Champions can be roughly split in half. Five of the most recent winners have gone to bed after day one inside the top three, while five have given themselves work to do from further down the field.

The most extreme example came in 2018, when Molinari was in a share of 14th and four shots off the lead going into the weekend.

The Italian then put together a spectacular bogey-free final two rounds to surge to the summit in an example of a perfectly-timed charge.

Mickelson delivered a similar run from outside the top 10 at the halfway stage in 2013 but the following year was the polar opposite as Rory McIlroy became just the sixth player to lead wire-to-wire on his way to victory.

Spieth joined him in 2017 – he held a share for the lead after day one, while McIlroy was the outright leader throughout – and Lowry was never outside the top two at the close of play when he won at Royal Portrush in 2019.


Champion Golfers since 2013

How many birdies/eagles?

  • 2013 – Phil Mickelson (16 birdies, no eagles)
  • 2014 – Rory McIlroy (20 birdies, 2 eagles)
  • 2015 – Zach Johnson (22 birdies, no eagles)
  • 2016 – Henrik Stenson (25 birdies, 1 eagle)
  • 2017 – Jordan Spieth (17 birdies, 2 eagles)
  • 2018 – Francesco Molinari (17 birdies, no eagles)
  • 2019 – Shane Lowry (23 birdies, no eagles)
  • 2021 – Collin Morikawa (19 birdies, no eagles)
  • 2022 – Cameron Smith (22 birdies, 1 eagle)
  • 2023 – Brian Harman (17 birdies, 1 eagle)

How many bogeys/doubles or worse?

  • 2013 – Phil Mickelson (9 bogeys, 2 doubles or worse)
  • 2014 – Rory McIlroy (7 bogeys, no doubles)
  • 2015 – Zach Johnson (7 bogeys, no doubles)
  • 2016 – Henrik Stenson (7 bogeys, no doubles)
  • 2017 – Jordan Spieth (9 bogeys, no doubles)
  • 2018 – Francesco Molinari (7 bogeys, 1 double)
  • 2019 – Shane Lowry (8 bogeys, no doubles)
  • 2021 – Collin Morikawa (4 bogeys, no doubles)
  • 2022 – Cameron Smith (2 bogeys, 1 double)
  • 2023 – Brian Harman (6 bogeys, no doubles)

Leaderboard position after R1 / R2 / R3?

  • 2013 – Phil Mickelson (T9/T11/T9/1)
  • 2014 – Rory McIlroy (1/1/1/1)
  • 2015 – Zach Johnson (T2/T4/T6/T1)
  • 2016 – Henrik Stenson (T12/2/1/1)
  • 2017 – Jordan Spieth (T1/1/1/1)
  • 2018 – Francesco Molinari (T19/T14/5/1)
  • 2019 – Shane Lowry (2/T1/1/1)
  • 2021 – Collin Morikawa (T9/2/2/1)
  • 2022 – Cameron Smith (T3/1/T3/1)
  • 2023 – Brian Harman (T4/1/1/1)

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