Kevin Markham looks back at Carnoustie’s previous hostings of the Open Championship
Jean van der Velde’s collapse may be one of the worst ever in sport, let alone golf, but he was not the first man to be humbled by Carnoustie — nor will he be the last. In 1931, Jose Jurado held a three-shot lead starting the final round. He was still two shots in front late on, but Carnoustie’s feared closing holes proved his downfall. A bogey-bogey finish would have been enough to win him the title but his drive found the Barry Burn on the 17th and he took a six. He missed a nine-foot par putt at the last to hand the Championship to Tommy Armour.
In 1953, Ben Hogan spent two weeks at Panmure Golf Club, near Carnoustie, trying to acclimatise to links golf and the smaller British ball. He wanted the 17th green at Panmure to run at the same speed as the greens at Carnoustie, so he asked the greenkeeper for help. The greenkeeper obliged, producing a mower, which Hogan used to mow the green himself. It was Hogan’s only appearance in the Open, where he won by four shots.
When Gary Player won in 1968, Carnoustie measured a whopping 7,252 yards, the longest in Championship history. It was also the first time a 36-hole cut was introduced.
A 25-year old Tom Watson won his first major at Carnoustie, in 1975. Over four rounds he failed to make par on the par three 16th, but he still tied with Jack Newton.
In what was to be the last 18 hole play-off in Open history, Watson’s par on the last was enough to beat the tenacious Newton. Watson had never played on a links before and he had this to say about the course’s difficulty: “Carnoustie is like an ugly, old hag who speaks the truth no matter how painful. But it’s only when you add up your score you hear exactly what she thinks of you.”
The name Carnasty came about following the 1999 Open Championship, when the everyday difficulty of the course was compounded by long rough and narrow fairways. Paul Lawrie claimed victory on +6, which remains the highest winning score since 1938. Many previous champions failed to make the cut, including the previous year’s champion, Mark O’Meara, Tom Lehman (1996), Nick Faldo (1992, 1990, 1987) and Seve Ballesteros (1988, 84, 79).
The younger generation fared not much better as two weeks after winning his first European Tour event (Murphy’s Irish Open, at Druids Glen), Sergio Garcia followed an opening 89 with an 83. The 19-year-old was reduced to tears. The first round lead was held by Australian Rod Pampling, who recorded a 71. The following day he shot an 86 and missed the cut. He is the only first-round leader in Open history to do so.
The combined total score of the Open Championship field that week was 2,660 over par.
Paul Lawrie’s victory may be overshadowed by Jean van de Velde’s catastrophic 72nd hole, but Lawrie’s brilliant closing 67 (-4) meant he made up 10 shots on the final day… the biggest final day turnaround in the Open Championship. He also birdied the last two holes in the play-off.
McIlroy was an 18-year-old amateur in 2007, when he claimed the silver medal and came 42nd. He was the first Irish winner of the medal since Joe Carr in 1958. His first round of 68 gave him a tie for third place and he was the only competitor to be bogey-free that day.
The three men (Harrington, Romero, Garcia) contending for the Claret Jug on Sunday recorded a combined score of five over par on the 72nd hole.
Just two players in the world’s top 10 have played an Open Championship at Carnoustie: Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy. Indeed, only 33 players from the 156-man field have played an Open at Carnoustie. The current champion, Jordan Spieth, was just 13 when he watched Harrington win in 2007.
Mickelson, who did not make the cut in either of his two previous appearances at Carnoustie, has said he is unlikely to carry a driver this week. “I’m either going to carry a driver or that hot three wood, but there’s only two or three holes — there’s actually only two holes I plan on using it, both par fives. I have a low 1-iron that I’ve been putting in the bag and ... it’s very low. Gets on the ground quick. I’ll hit that on probably the last 10 holes, almost every hole.”
Carnoustie will measure 7,402 yards for 2018, which is 19 yards shorter than in 2007, and just 150 yards longer than in 1968.