The 8 Biggest Meltdowns in British Open History
Yes, Jan Van de Velde is in a class by himself. But he was not the only British Open choker. We rank the eight greatest golf collapses in The Open Championship history.
You have to watch it to appreciate it, and this particular YouTube clip from the BBC will be an excruciating 14 minutes and 17 seconds for those who are especially fond of French golfers.
As you watch, try to figure out why Jan Van de Velde’s wife was smiling during this epic meltdown. Especially when the shoes and socks were coming off, and the commentator noted “to even attempt to hit the ball out of there is sheer madness.”
Yes, this is why we watch sports sometimes. Not only for the thrill of victory but also for the agony of defeat. A three-shot lead going into the 18th would seem safe. But in 1999 it was not. And even after Van de Velde one-putted the 18th and quickly tossed the ball away, he went on to lose in a four-hole playoff.
Wagering was not legal in the United States when this particular golf meltdown happened, but it was in Great Britain, where betting parlors are situated in close proximity to pubs. Pity the fool who wagered on Van de Velde to win when the golfers were on the 18th tee. Somewhere in Britain is someone with a true tale to tell about wagering on Lawrie at that very moment.
Just keep that in mind this year in case someone has a three-shot lead on the 18th tee at Royal Liverpool, a par-4 of 464 yards with three massive bunkers lining the middle of the fairway and three more deep bunkers protecting the front of the green. Nobody will be taking their shoes and socks off, but British bunkers on links courses can be especially unforgiving. In golf, you just never know.
So with that in mind, let’s review some of the other epic golf collapses by players in the Open Championship.
Ranking the 8 Biggest Collapses in British Open History
- Thomas Bjorn, 2003 at Royal St. George’s
Bjorn led by two strokes heading to the par-3 16th hole, but he buried the ball in a bunker on the edge of the green. Two ensuing attempts each rolled back into the bunker. A frustrated Bjorn was forced to settle for an ill-timed double bogey and fell into a first-place tie. A botched 6-foot putt for par ruined his 17th hole, and Ben Curtis took the title by one stroke over Bjorn and Vijay Singh.
- Tony Jacklin, 1972 at Muirfield
Jacklin landed on the par-5 in three shots, set up nicely to pull ahead with a birdie. But Lee Trevino chipped in from off the green for a birdie, and Jacklin’s first putt sped 3 feet past the hole. Jacklin yanked the ensuing short par putt, pushing Trevino into first after his par on 17. Trevino put the tournament away on the 18th hole to defend his title, winning by one shot over Jack Nicklaus after Jacklin also bogeyed No. 18.
- Hale Irwin, 1983 at Royal Birkdale
Irwin lined up to putt for par on the 14th hole, looking to stay at 6-under and locked in with Tom Watson atop the leaderboard. Instead, his putter landed short of the ball and bounced above the target, resulting in a complete whiff. It cost Irwin a valuable stroke and ruined his momentum. Irwin followed with a bogey and ultimately wound up in fifth place. This remains the most memorable “whiff” in golf history.
- Adam Scott, 2012 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes
The Australian bogeyed each of the final four holes on Sunday, including a stunning three-putt on 16. Ernie Els went from a sure-fire second-place finish to winning the event as Scott bogeyed 18 and Els birdied it. Scott became the second player in Open Championship history to lose at least a four-shot lead through 54 holes.
- Greg Norman, 1989 at Royal Troon
Norman rallied from seven shots down to shoot a 64 on Sunday, matching the lowest score in British Open history and forcing a four-hole playoff against Mark Calcavecchia and Wayne Grady. He birdied each of the first two extra holes, then bogeyed the third. On the final hole, he drove into a bunker, then followed by hitting into another bunker and hitting his third shot out of bounds to give the Claret Jug to Calcavecchia.
- John Cook, 1992 at Muirfield
Cook could have cushioned his lead with a birdie attempt on the par-5 17th but missed a 2-footer. On No. 18, with a 30 mph wind in his face, Cook hit a 2-iron to the base of an iron fence. He took a free drop, got within 8 feet, and then three-putted with a particularly egregious missed tap-in, handing the title to Nick Faldo.
- Tiger Woods, 2002 at Muirfield
Woods had won seven of the previous 11 majors, and he finished this Open with a 65 on Sunday. But his undoing was an 81 in cold, rainy conditions on Saturday. This was his worst score ever in a major, and what made it all the more amazing was the fact that it happened at the height of Tigermania. It was a reminder that Mother Nature remains a force, especially at British Opens, where the weather can change in an instant. So, if you are wagering on this year’s Open, do yourself a favor and do your homework regarding players who have excelled in less-than advantageous conditions.
- Jan Van de Velde, 1999 at Carnoustie
This is the meltdown that all future meltdown should be judged against. Opting for a driver off the tee rather than a safe iron, Van de Velde’s tee shot went way right, over the water and back onto the 17th hole. Instead of laying up, he then decided to go for the green, but the ball ricocheted off the main grandstand and a rock to land in knee-deep rough. The third shot went into a small stream in front of the green. He took a drop shot and then hit the ball into a deep greenside bunker. He managed to get out safely and sank a 6-foot putt for a triple bogey, but lost in a playoff.
Parameters of Rankings
Nobody likes ranking collapses, with the exception of those who make a living highlighting negatives on social media (yes, people actually make a living doing that), but history is what it is, and it is not always pleasant. Each of these collapses was the talk of the town on the following Monday, whether that town was in Scotland, Ireland, the United States, or elsewhere. And Van de Velde’s collapse is the type of story that gets told and retold in clubhouses and pubs by golfers and non-golfers alike. It is one of the most-viewed golf clips on YouTube, and it is especially terrific for Francophiles.
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