Of all the courses in the current British Open rotation, Carnoustie Golf Links has ben host of the fewest championships. The Open returns this year for the first time in 24 years.
Through the years, from Tommy Armour in 1931 to Tom Watson in 1975, Carnoustie has proven to be the most demanding course in championship golf. The final four holes measure a combined 1,668 yards and require a mere 15 strokes to match par.
If Carnoustie's short history is any indication, it should produce a worthy champion:
In the first Open at Carnoustie, Jose Jurado was poised to become the first player from Argentina- the southernmost stronghold of world golf-to win an Open played on the most northerly site in history.
He took a three-shot lead over MacDonald Smith into the final round and was five strokes ahead of Tommy Armour, a Scotsman who had emigrated to the United States. Armour closed with a 71, which proved to be enough by one stroke when Jurado topped a shot into the Barry Burn on No. 17 during a double bogey-bogey-bogey finish.
Armour had a 296 and became the last Scotsman to win an Open in his native land-and the last to win an Open until Sandy Lyle in 1985.
For the second time at Carnoustie, the champion came from behind in the final round.
Henry Cotton, the '34 Open champion, was three strokes behind Reg Whitcombe going into the last day. The weather was so wet and miserable that play was nearly called off. Cotton closed with a 71 on a course that even then was more than 7,000 yards long.
Cotton, who opened with a 74, improved his score by one stroke each day and finished at 290 for a two-stroke victory over Whitcombe. Coton also fared better than the entire U.S. Ryder Cup team. The top American was Byron Nelson, who finished six strokes back in his only serious visit to the British Open.
Ben Hogan came to Scotland in the name of history. Having already won the Masters and the U.S. Open that year, he was told he could not be regarded as truly great unless he won the British Open.
Such was the frenzy over Hogan that a train made an unscheduled stop to watch Hogan hit his first competitive shot on Scottish soil, and tournament officials were ordered to control the gallery-for the qualifying rounds.
Hogan was tied with Roberto de Vicenzo at 214 through three rounds, but closed with a 68 for a four-stroke victory over Antonio Cerda, Dai Reese, Peter Thomson and amateur Frank Stranahan.
Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, two of the "Big Three" in the 1960's waged a terrific battle over the tough closing holes at Carnoustie.
Billy Casper led by four strokes after 36 holes and by one after 54, but shot a 78 on the final day, including a 6 on the 18th hole.
Player's eagle on 14 gave him a two-stroke lead and the confidence to win.
"That did it," Player said. "When I got that eagle, I knew it was my championship."
Player closed with a 73 and won his second Open by two strokes over Nicklaus (73) and Bob Charles (76). Casper finished three strokes behind.
Tom Watson had developed the reputation as a choker in major championships. A month earlier in the U.S. Open at Medinah, he was at 135 after two rounds but had a 78-77 on the weekend to finish three strokes behind champion Lou Graham. A year earlier at Winged Foot, he had a one-stroke lead going into the final round but closed with a 79.
Watson shattered that myth at Carnoustie and emerged as the most dominant American to ever play seaside golf.
Watson won the 18-hole playoff with Jack Newton by one stroke, 71 to 72, and became only the third American (Tony Lema, Ben Hogan) to win the British Open on his first try. Watson went on to win four more Opens over the next eight years.
British Open Courses
Number of times courses have been used in the British Open (with last year used):
25: St. Andrews, Scotland (1995)
24: Prestwick, Scotland (1925)
14: Muirfield, Scotland (1992)
12: Royal St. George's, Scotland (1993)
10: Hoylake, England (1967)
9: Royal Lytham & St. Anne's, England (1996)
8: Royal Birkdale, England (1998)
7: Royal Troon, Scotland (1997)
6: Musselburgh, Scotland (1889)
6: Carnoustie, Scotland (1999)
3: Turnberry, Scotland (1994)
2: Deal, England (1920)
1: Prince's, England (1932)
1: Portrush, Ireland (1951)