By Zak Kozuchowski, PGATOUR.COM Staff
The British Open demands dedication –- both for PGA TOUR players and American golf fans. For TOUR players, the British Open means a different style of golf. The links courses in England and Scotland feature brutal winds, knee-high rough and terrifyingly deep bunkers. They're forced to change the way the play their tee shots and approaches, as well as expand the repertoire of shots they use around the greens. Fans also have to adapt to the British Open. It's the only major not played on U.S. soil, which means adjusting the clock. First-and-second round coverage of this year's play at Royal St. George's will begin at 4 a.m. on ESPN. So what makes TOUR players go through the hassle of traveling across the Atlantic Ocean, and what makes fans sacrifice hours of sleep to watch the tournament? The answer is simple – the history. Jack Nicklaus said any golfer worth his salt has to cross the sea and try to win the British Open. Arnold Palmer said he never felt like a complete professional golfer until he won the event.
The British Open is the oldest championship in golf and also the closest to golf's historic roots. The championship's trophy, the Claret Jug, includes the names of the game's pioneers like Old Tom Morris and Harry Vardon. European greats like Tony Jacklin, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Sandy Lyle have also left their mark on the championship.
Throughout the years, though, there have also been British Open victories by Americans that have meant just as much to the championship's storied history. Enjoy our list of the top five American British Open victories.
5. 2009, Turnberry – Tom Watson (runner-up)
Watson didn't win the 2009 British Open, but he still makes our list at No. 5 because his improbable bid for a sixth British Open was one of the most memorable in history. For four days, the 59-year-old was on top of the leaderboard at Turnberry where he had staged his iconic "Duel in the Sun" with Jack Nicklaus 32 years earlier.
Watson needed a par to win on the final hole on Sunday and he played the hole nearly perfectly. He struck a long, straight drive in the fairway and played a wonderful approach to the green.
Unfortunately for Watson, though, his iron shot landed too firmly and bounded past the pin. Watson had a short putt for par, but missed it to the right, putting himself in a playoff with Stewart Cink. He played poorly in sudden death and lost to Cink, but his inspired play will never be forgotten.
4. 1930, Royal Liverpool Golf Club – Bobby Jones
Jones' British Open win in 1930 was special – it was his third and final British Open victory, but it was also part of his magical 1930 season in which he became the first and only player ever to complete golf's Grand Slam (winning all four of what were then considered major championships) in the same year. The life-long amateur had a one-stroke lead after the first two rounds at Royal Liverpool, but struggled through the third round and trailed Archie Compson by six shots going into the final 18 holes. Jones rebounded to win, though, finishing the tournament at 291 – two shots ahead of MacDonald Smith and Leo Diegel.
3. 1953, Carnoustie – Ben Hogan
Ben Hogan also completed a "slam" of sorts in 1953, when he won the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open at Carnoustie. Hogan was not able to play the 1953 PGA Championship because its date overlapped with the British Open, which he opted to play instead.
Hogan's four-stroke win at Carnoustie is even more spectacular considering it came in his first British Open appearance and occurred after a horrific car accident in 1949 that left him with a fractured pelvis, collar bone, ankle and rib. And it came in his only appearance in golf's oldest major championship.
2. 1977 British Open, Turnberry – Tom Watson
Tom Watson turned to his final-round playing partner Jack Nicklaus on the 16th hole that Sunday and asked, "This is what it's all about, isn't it." Nicklaus replied, "You bet it is."
The two Americans had shot matching 65s on Saturday and continued to trade birdies on Sunday, all the way down to the final green. Watson, leading by one, hit his approach on the 18th hole to 2 feet, and with Nicklaus beside a gorse bush in the right rough, looked to have his second of five Claret Jugs secured.
But Nicklaus, who had missed a 3-footer for birdie on the previous hole, managed to lash an 8-iron to 35 feet and then made the putt to put pressure on Watson. After Watson made his birdie, Nicklaus put his arm around him, and the consummate sportsmen walked together toward the scorer's tent.
1. 2000, St. Andrews – Tiger Woods
Woods won by eight shots at St. Andrews, just a few weeks after lapping the field at Pebble Beach in the U.S. Open by 15 shots. He made the Old Course look easy, managing to avoid all of the course's famed bunkers.
Woods'19-under performance still stands as a record for the lowest score in any major championship. At 24, he later became the youngest player ever to achieve the career Grand Slam. He followed his performance at the home of golf with a win at the 2000 PGA Championship and the 2001 Masters, becoming the only player in the modern era to win all four major championships consecutively.