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British Open history: winners, courses, records and statistics

The fourth Major of the season is taking place this week, giving a chance for world’s best golfers to add their name to the Open’s legacy.

Update:
The fourth Major of the season is taking place this week, giving a chance for world’s best golfers to add their name to the Open’s legacy.
PAUL ELLISAFP

The Open Championship, also known as the Open or the British Open in America, is going back to its most hallowed playing field, Old Course St. Andrews, for its 150th edition. As the fourth major of the season, next to the Masters, the US Open and the PGA Championship, we analyze what has made this tournament special for over a hundred and fifty years.

Follow the final day of the 150th Open Championship live from St Andrews

The Oldest major

The first British Open was held in 1860 for the first time, playing three rounds of 12 holes in just one day to crown Willie Park Sr. as the first ever champion in Prestwick, Scotland, where the tournament would be played for the first 12 editions. In the coming years the Open would expand its playing field and allow amateurs to take part in it, with the exception of 1871, when the tournament was canceled. Tom Morris Jr. had won the Open for the past three years, so he was allowed to retain the championship belt. That meant there was no trophy to be awarded next year and the tournament did not reappear until 1872, when the trophy now known as the Claret Jug was introduced. Since then it has only stopped due to both World Wars and CoVid in 2020.

NORTH BERWICK, SCOTLAND - JULY 10: The Claret Jug is picture on the 1st tee during The Open Qualifying Series, part of the Genesis Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club on July 10, 2022 in North Berwick, Scotland. (Photo by Luke Walker/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)
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NORTH BERWICK, SCOTLAND - JULY 10: The Claret Jug is picture on the 1st tee during The Open Qualifying Series, part of the Genesis Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club on July 10, 2022 in North Berwick, Scotland. (Photo by Luke Walker/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)Luke Walker/R&AGetty

The British Open has lived through quite some different eras, as it was won six times by amateurs before 1930. Then came a period of England domination until the tournament got recognition in the States, as Arnold Palmer took part in it in 1960 to try and win the US Open, the Masters and the Open all in the same year. Palmer finished runner-up, but he came back and won it a couple of times, initiating a US era next to Nicklaus and some other players. The British Open officially became part of the PGA tour back in 1994.

St. Andrews, one of many mythical courses

This 150th edition of the Open Championship will also be the 30th to take place in one of the most iconic courses in the world, Scottish’ Old Course St. Andrews, a links golf course that held the first 18-hole Open back in 1873. Since then, St. Andrews has seen both Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods win a couple of times there, with Zach Johnson as the most recent champion in 2015. The initial three courses rotation of Prestwick, St. Andrews and Musselburgh, all in Scotland, has now morphed into a total of nine golf courses that hold the Open periodically, with five in Scotland and four in England. A total of 96 editions have taken place in Scotland, with 51 in England. It has only been played elsewhere a couple of times, all in Northern Ireland, in 1951 and 2019, with Shane Lowry’s win at Royal Portrush, where the Open will come back in 2025.

Prizes, records and statistics

From an initial £10 purse to distribute among the top finishers in the tournament, the Open has grown to a $14million prize pool, the most ever for the major, of which the winner gets 18%. Winning it allows the champion to enter the Open until age 60, and also grants access to the next five editions of each major.

The golfer with the most ever wins at the Open Championship is Harry Vardon, who totalled 6 championships at the end of the XIX century. Father and son, Tom Morris Sr. and Tom Morris Jr. both won four British Opens each during the first decades of the tournament’s existence. Some of golf’s greatest players have also had a lot of success at the Open, with the top two majors winners, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, both conquering the tournament three teams. Tiger will play for his fourth this year as he tries to inch closer to Nickalus’ 18 majors.

The best aggregate score and to par both come from the same player in the same year, as Henryk Stenson’s historic performance won him the 2016 Open Championship. He finished with a score of 263 and a -20 that players will try to come near to this week in hopes of succeeding Collin Morikawa as the next British Open champion.

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