The biggest meltdowns in British Open history

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July 15th, 2021

The British Open is one of the most exciting tournaments of the year. The only golf major to be held outside of the United States comes with plenty of thrills and spills, and some of the meltdowns in Open history are unmatched.

While we have seen flawless performances here from Henrik Stenson, Louis Oosthuizen, Padraig Harrington, Tiger Woods, Shane Lowry, and others, it is the final round collapses that are just as gripping. Who knew you could pack so much drama into 18 holes and 7,000 yards?

5. Bjorn’s Botched Bunker (2003)

Thomas Bjorn had a two-stroke lead as he teed up on the 16th hole of the final round in 2003, and the big Dane looked likely to be lifting the Claret Jug in a few holes’ time. But Bjorn met disaster on the par 3, finding a bunker and having to take three shots to dig it out of the sand.

That left him with double-bogey and in a tie for the lead, before he botched a 6-foot putt on the 17th to card another bogey and hand the title to a then unknown Ben Curtis.

Bjorn had already had bunker problems in round one, taking an angry swipe at the sand at the 17th which resulted in a two-stroke penalty. That was bad – but the bogey, double-bogey, bogey, par finish on Sunday was all-time meltdown material.

4. Scott’s Epic Crumble (2012)

Aussie Adam Scott was on the verge of really launching himself into the golfing spotlight at the British Open in 2012 as he finished the third round with a four-stroke lead.

Even after a poor opening nine holes in which he carded two-over-par, Scott still had the advantage turning for home and he birdied the 14th to put him in prime position with a three-shot lead.

But it all crumbed down around the Aussie as he bogeyed the final four holes and handed Ernie Els the Claret Jug by a single stroke. His putting evaporated with a miss on 16 arguably being his worst effort, before he eventually found the bunker on 18 when he knew a par would at least force a play-off.

Luckily, the meltdown wasn’t too scarring as he went on to win the Masters in Augusta a year later.

3. Cook Chokes to Hand it to Faldo (1992)

In another life this list would include Faldo choking in 1992, but instead it’s American John Cook. Faldo teed off in the final round with a four-shot lead after some immaculate golf including a record score of 199 through 54 holes.

But he struggled on Sunday and had dropped four shots by the time he reached the 15th hole. Cook, on the other hand, picked up a shot in his first 14 holes and was right in the mix. Cook birdied the 15th and 16th to build up momentum and give himself a two-stroke lead, before disaster on the 17th.

He missed a simple two-foot putt for birdie and had to settle for a par, before moments later he missed the green on the 18th and bogeyed the final hole. Faldo sank a birdie putt on the par-five 17th and only needed a par to win the Claret Jug. A straightforward two-putt sealed the deal and gave Faldo his third Open Championship.

2. The Shark Drowns in Play-off Pressure (1989)

Greg "The Shark" Norman shot such an incredible round of golf on the final day of the 1989 Open Championship, that it is a shame his performance is most remembered for the play-off disaster. Despite starting the day seven strokes behind Mark Calcavecchia, Norman shot a course record 64 at Royal Troon to force an incredible four-hole, three-way play-off.

The Shark got off to a flyer again, with birdies on the first two holes to give himself the lead. He dropped a shot on the third play-off hole but was level with Calcavecchia as they teed up on the last. Then it all went horribly wrong.

Norman’s monster tee shot found the bunker, and his second shot found another sand trap. His third shot flew over the green and out of bounds and Norman didn’t play another shot as Calcavecchia birdied the 18th for the Claret Jug.

 It was one of eight times Norman finished as runner-up in a major.

1. Van De Velde’s 18th Hole Disaster (1999)

Not only the most memorable meltdown in the British Open, but possibly all of golf. Jean van de Velde teed up on the 18th hole in the final round of the Open Championship at Carnoustie with a three-stroke lead. He would be forgiven for already picturing where he was going to keep the Claret Jug.

Opting for a driver off the tee rather than a safe iron, van de Velde’s tee shot went way right, over the water and back on to the 17th hole. Instead of laying up, he then decided to go for the green from there, but the ball ricocheted off the main grandstand and a rock to land in knee-deep rough. The rough made his third shot difficult and he hit it into a small stream in front of the green. Despite whipping off his shoes and socks and getting in, van de Velde decided instead to take a drop shot and then hit the ball into a deep greenside bunker. He managed to get out safely and sunk a six-foot putt for a triple-bogey which forced a three-man play-off.

Paul Lawrie won and holds the honor of the biggest final round comeback in major history, as the Frenchman continued the collapse with a four-hole play-off score of three-over-par.