Royal Birkdale's roll of honour

Some of the sport's greatest players have picked up the Claret Jug at this year's Open venue, writes Conor Matchett

Tom Watson won his fifth and final Open Championship at Birkdale in 1983. Picture: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock
Tom Watson won his fifth and final Open Championship at Birkdale in 1983. Picture: Colorsport/REX/Shutterstock

1954 Peter Thomson £750

The first of Birkdale’s nine Open Championship’s had a difficult job on its hands in matching Ben Hogan’s famous victory and solitary visit to the competition the year before at Carnoustie. In a tightly fought final round, Australia’s Peter Thomson won his first Major by a shot over four-time champion South African Bobby Locke, Wales’s Dai Rees, and England’s Syd Scott. Scotland’s Jimmy Adams was a further two shots behind, and the evergreen Peter Alliss, having led after the first round, finished four shots back in tied eighth place.

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1961 Arnold Palmer £1,400

Rees, the best golfer to come out of Wales until Ian Woosnam, was a man who seemed destined never to win his home Championship, finishing second for the third and final time in 1961 behind the irrepressible Arnold Palmer. Rees was tied for the lead in the weather-affected first and second rounds, with Palmer stalking behind, only ever a shot off the front. A third-round 69 was enough for the American to rip the lead from the Welshman, and secure his first Open on the final day by a shot. The best performing Scot was Eric Brown, who finished five shots behind Palmer on one-over-par in fifth spot.

1965 Peter Thomson £1,750

Thomson returned to the scene of his first Open success to record his fifth and final victory in the competition, overcoming a strong American cohort that included Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tony Lema. Lema was out in front from early on, sitting on six under going into the final two rounds. Morning scoring proved to be difficult for most with only Thomson and the Spaniard Sebastian Miguel dipping below par. Thomson’s consistent play secured him a one-shot lead going into the afternoon final round, where he pulled further away to win by two shots from Wales’s Brian Huggett and Ireland’s Christy O’Connor Snr. John Panton was the best of the Scots, finishing tied 10th on one-over-par.

1971 Lee Trevino £5,500

A competition not remembered for Trevino’s mastery of the Birkdale course which came less than a month after his success in the US Open at Merion. Instead, the weekend was dominated by the Taiwanese Liang-Huan Lu, a larger-than-life charmer of the crowds with his unmistakeable pork-pie hat and cheery manner. “Mr Lu”, as he came to be known by the watching public, ran Trevino extremely close with a superb performance in Southport, coming within a shot of being the first Asian winner of any Major. Trevino’s first round 69 was the crucial difference as Lu matched Trevino’s scoring in every other round.

1976 Johnny Miller £7,500

Poor old Johnny Miller. The American became the 13th man to secure both the US and British Opens, winning by a gigantic six shots with a mesmeric six-under- par final round of 66, but the victory was overshadowed by the pure, unadulterated brilliance of a young Seve Ballasteros. Going into the 
final round, the Spaniard was two shots ahead of the American, but ended the weekend joint second with that other legend, Nicklaus. In contrast to Miller’s sensible, percentage play – he used his iron 21 times off the tee in the final two rounds – Ballasteros’ spent the whole weekend scrambling up and down the dunes of Birkdale, showcasing his sometimes dangerous, often miraculous talents to the world for the first time.

1983 Tom Watson £40,000

Playing steady golf like only Tom Watson could, the American never shot above 70 in a tournament which would prove to be his last Open and Major victory. First chasing down fellow American Craig Stadler, who had led by three after the first round and then by one after the second, Watson hit consecutive rounds of 70 to hold off a brief charge from Nick Faldo in the fourth round, and impressive 67s from fellow countrymen Andy Bean and Hale Irwin. The round of the week, however, would go to Australia’s Graham Marsh who hit a spectacular 64 on the final day.

1991 Ian Baker-Finch £90,000

A man with an unfortunate tabloid nickname, “Baker-Flinch” as the press had baptised him after a final round 79 in 1984 at St Andrews that saw him drop out of contention despite starting the day as joint leader. It came with immense satisfaction for the Australian, then, when his record-equalling 64 third round and attacking 66 final round with five birdies in the first seven holes saw him beat compatriot Mike Harwood by two shots.

1998 Mark O’Meara £300,000

Following on from his Masters triumph, American O’Meara was expected to challenge for the Claret Jug in his most successful year as a professional on the Major stage. Weather on the third day sorted the wheat from the chaff leaving a select group of golfers, including his countrymen Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk, and Seden’s Jesper Parnevik, to fight it out for the title. O’Meara was two shots behind Canadian-born Brian Watts going into the final round, and as Woods and Scotland’s Raymond Russell produced magnificent rounds of 66 in a desperate attempt to catch the Americans, Watts and O’Meara were destined for a play-off. O’Meara would birdie the first hole of the four-hole playoff which was enough to beat Watts to the trophy. The event also marked the emergence of Englishman Justin Rose who, playing as an amateur, tied for fourth place.

2008 Padraig Harrington £750,000

After defeating Sergio Garcia at Carnoustie in a play-off the year before, Harrington became the fifth man to defend the Open when he won in style at Birkdale. Despite a wrist injury that threatened his participation, Harrington played through the pain and overcame a two-shot deficit to Australia’s Greg Norman in the final round. Bad weather had affected play all weekend with very little in the way of low scoring, but both Harrington and England’s Ian Poulter hit impressive final rounds of 69 to finish first and second. Poulter finished four shots behind the Irishman as Norman faltered with a seven-over-par 77 to hand Harrington the victory.