Success for St Andrews Open winners in fun-filled Celebration of Champions

It was a fun start to the week of the 150th Open. No LIV Golf punches were being thrown. In fact, the mood was light-hearted at St Andrews as a Celebration of Champions got the R&A’s showpiece occasion underway.

The winning team of John Daly,  Louis Oosthuizen,  Zach Johnson and Sir Nick Faldo pose for a photo on the Swilcan Bridge during the Celebration of Champions at St Andrews. Picture: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images.
The winning team of John Daly, Louis Oosthuizen, Zach Johnson and Sir Nick Faldo pose for a photo on the Swilcan Bridge during the Celebration of Champions at St Andrews. Picture: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, four former winners of the Claret Jug event at St Andrews came out on - Nick Faldo, John Daly, Louis Oosthuizen and Zach Johnson – teaming up to shoot six-under-par in a four-hole contest over the first, second, 17th and 18th holes on the Old Course.

That gave the illustrious quartet – winners at the home of golf in 1990, 1995, 2010 and 2015 respectively – a three-shot win over the teams captained by Laura Davies and Tiger Woods.

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Woods was partnered by Rory McIlroy, Georgia Hall and Lee Trevino, with McIlroy driving the 18th green after hitting his tee shot on the 17th into the garden of the Old Course Hotel.

The 15-time major winner pulled out of the US PGA Championship in May following a third round of 79 and skipped the US Open in order to give himself the best chance of playing at St Andrews, scene of his Open victories in 2000 and 2005.

“There’s nothing else like it,” said Woods of being at the Fife venue. “For me, I was lucky enough to complete a career Grand Slam here in 2000, too, which was even more special. Top do it here at the home of golf, to be a champion at the Home of Golf, is nothing like that, no other feeling.”

Asked how he was feeling, the 46-year-old, who suffered severe leg injuries in a car accident in February last year, said: “I’m feeling good.

“Game day is Thursday, so I just have to pace myself until then and get after it and hopefully we can put ourselves in contention on the back nine come Sunday.”

McIlroy admitted he found being part of the event “a little bit emotional”. The four-time major winner added: “If you told a 10-year-old Rory I would be doing this I wouldn’t have believed you.

“To get my name on the Claret Jug, to be as close as I am to my hero growing up (Woods) and to be doing this, the Champions Dinner tomorrow in the R&A clubhouse… it’s sort of pinch yourself moments. It’s really, really cool and I am so privileged and humbled to be part of it all.”

Paul Lawrie, the 1999 winner, teamed up with five-time champion Tom Watson, Stewart Cink, the man who denied Watson another triumph at the age of 59, and Kipp Popert, who won the EDGA Hero Open at Fairmont St Andrews last year.

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“It’s funny because when we had the Champions’ Challenge the first year, I had the first hit as defending champion and hit a horrible pull hook and it was only (mimics a foot) from the fence,” recalled Lawrie afterwards.

“Tom Weiskopf was next and as he went over he whispered in my ear, ‘thank f*** you went first!’. He hit the same shot, right next to my ball.”

As was the case when he played with Arnold Palmer in 2015, it was an honour for him to be in the company of golfing royalty in Watson, who remains one of the most popular figures any time he sets foot on a Scottish course.

“When you play with Mr Watson, it’s always the same, he’s never missed a shot out there, flushed every one. Doesn’t hit as far as he used to,” he said.

Does a 53-year-old still pinch himself to be sharing the same stage as the game’s greatest players? “Well, yeah,” he declared. “You’re playing with a proper legend of the game like Tom Watson and play a couple of poor shots, including squaffing it into the left bunker, and you think ‘Tom’s watching’.

“I don’t get that very often when I’m playing, you’re into your own game. But in things like this and playing with people like him, you definitely think about it.”

Catriona Matthew, Europe’s double-winning Solheim Cup captain, skippered a team that also included Louise Duncan, last year’s R&A Women’s Amateur champion from West Kilbride. They were partnered by two Carnoustie winners in Padraig Harrington and Francesco Molinari.

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Sandy Lyle, the 1985 winner at Royal St George’s, took part as well, playing with Gary Player, Bob Charles and paragolfer Monique Kalkman.

Next up is the Champions’ Dinner - only held when the event is taking place at St Andrews - on Tuesday night. “It’s the best we go to,” said Lawrie of that. “The first year I had Lee Trevino on my left, Gary Player on my right and Mr Nicklaus sitting across from us. These three chatting away, it was just the best. I didn't say much, I didn’t have a chance to, but what a dinner.”

The only LIV Golf news of the day emerged in the US as a report by the Wall Street Journal claimed that the PGA Tour is currently under investigation by the Department of Justice regarding anticompetitive behaviour towards the Saudi-backed breakaway circuit.

The story said that “players’ agents have received inquiries from the DOJ’s antitrust division involving both the PGA Tour’s bylaws governing players’ participation in other golf events, and the PGA Tour’s actions in recent months relating to LIV Golf, according to a person familiar with those inquiries.”

A tour spokesperson told Golf Digest: "This was not unexpected. We went through this in 1994 and we are confident in a similar outcome."

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