Success unexpected

The first shocking Open champion was Andrew Strath back in 1865, the most recent was Louis Oosthuizen just last year. Stan Awtrey gives us his picks of six of the great upset British Open winners in the last 30 years.


Bill Rogers beat Bernhard Langer by four shots in 1981 at Royal St. George's as part of a career year. (Getty Images)

By Stan Awtrey, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

It all began in 1865, when Andrew Strath shocked the world by winning the Open Championship. Until then, the Claret Jug had been the exclusive property of either Willie Park or Old Tom Morris. But when Strath defeated Park by two shots, it established the concept of an upset winner at golf’s oldest major that remains intact today.

A year ago it was Louis Oosthuizen, the South African with the difficult-to-pronounce surname and the textbook swing, who silenced the critics by walking past the field to win by seven shots at St. Andrews. Oosthuizen, who had missed the cut in seven of his eight previous Opens, looked completely comfortable on the weekend and never showed his nerves.

Sometimes that happens. Sometimes a player will shock the world with a breakthrough win. The Open, which dates back to 1860, is no exception. You never know when a Mungo Park (1874) or Sandy Herd (1902) or Alf Padgham (1936) will poke his head into the winner's circle. Here's a look at six of the biggest surprise winners over the last 30 years.

Paul Lawrie: He was the benefactor of Jean Van de Velde’s meltdown in the Barry Burn on the 72nd hole at Carnoustie in 1999. He was doubtless one of the most surprised players in the field, as he didn’t lead the tournament at any time in regulation. He simply posted a number and watched Van de Velde and Justin Leonard come back to him. Lawrie trailed Van de Velde by 10 shots when the final round began and by three when the Frenchman hit his drive at the 18th hole. Lawrie has only won three times since and ended a nine-year drought when he won the Open de Andalucia de Golf this spring.

Todd Hamilton: A poster boy for dogged determination, Hamilton beat Ernie Els in a playoff to win the 2004 championship at Royal Troon. After winning 11 times on the Japan Tour, Hamilton, then 38, had managed to survive q-school for the first time in eight tries and scored his first PGA TOUR win by beating Davis Love III at The Honda Classic. Five months later he was the Open champion. Hamilton has not won since and hasn’t posted a top-10 in 23 majors since.

Bill Rogers: He blitzed the field in 1981 at Royal St. George’s, beating Bernhard Langer by four shots. Rogers is barely known by today's casual golfer, but in 1981 he was one of the best players in the world. He won four tournaments that year, ranked second in the World Golf Ranking, made the Ryder Cup team and was named the PGA TOUR Player of the Year. Two years later he had fallen to No. 134 on the money list, a victim of burnout, and by 1988 he left the TOUR to work at a club in Texas.

John Daly: It wasn't a complete surprise for Daly to win in 1995 since Long John had already won the PGA Championship at Crooked Stick in 1991. That was when Daly was a real longshot; he got in the PGA as the ninth alternate when Nick Price withdrew to attend the birth of his child. But Daly had shown no inkling of success overseas; he had finished last in two of his first three British Open attempts and began the week as a 66-to-1 choice at the betting parlors. He became only the third American since World War II to win two majors before his 30th birthday -- and it still wasn't good enough to get him on the Ryder Cup team.

Ian Baker-Finch: He had won tournaments on four continents and was considered a solid player, but few expected to see him win the Claret Jug at 1991 at Royal Birkdale. He certainly earned it, closing with rounds of 64 and 66 to win by two shots over Mike Harwood (who REALLY would have been a surprise winner). Two years later, his game was in free-fall and by 1997 the Aussie had stepped away from professional golf to focus on his duties as a television broadcaster.

Ben Curtis: He began the 2003 Open Championship at Royal St. George's as a 300-to-1 longshot. Four days later he became the first player in 90 years to win a major in his first appearance. (Francis Ouimet won the 1913 U.S. Open in his debut and later became the subject of a Hollywood movie.) Curtis didn't get a movie deal, but he was PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year, and has gone on to finish eighth or better in two additional Opens. 

Can it happen again? Can someone totally unexpected win the Open Championship this week at Royal St. George's? The venue has given us champions like Greg Norman, Sandy Lyle, Henry Cotton, Walter Hagen and Harry Vardon. It's also given us unexpected winners like Curtis, Rogers and Reg Whitcombe, a World War I veteran and club professional who closed with rounds of 75 and 78 and beat the 36-hole leaders by 10 shots in 1937.