The Five Most Devastating Chokes at the British Open

Holding a commanding lead while standing over the final few holes of the oldest and arguably greatest of all golf’s majors is what most players dream of.

For a select few, that dream has become a reality and quickly descended into a nightmare as they have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

So with Muirfield 2013 on the horizon, let’s take a look at the five of the most memorable (for all the wrong reasons) chokes in British Open history.


1. 2012 – Adam Scott

Standing on the 15th tee, you would be forgiven for thinking it was all over. The young and supremely talented Adam Scott held a four shot lead over Ernie Els, who was running out of holes ahead of the Australian. For Scott, the dream turned into a nightmare as he racked up three consecutive bogeys to find himself with one hole to play. Worse still, Els produced a magnificent putt at the 18th to birdie the last, meaning Scott now found himself tied for the lead.


With his confidence now shot, Scott could only send his seven foot putt for par wide of the hole handing victory to Els. Scott had to wait a further nine months to eradicate this bitter memory with his sweet victory at Augusta earlier this year.



1999 – Jean Van de Velde
Standing on the final tee at Carnoustie in 1999 at the culmination of one of the most brutal Open’s in history, France’s Jean Van de Velde practically had the Claret Jug in his grasp. Leading by three shots with just the final hole to play Van de Velde decided to play the hole as he would if needing to par to win the title. His drive was erratic and flew towards the burn, but took a fortunate bounce and nestled at the side of it.


It was a stroke of fortune the Frenchman should have heeded, however he refused to yield, taking a two iron and slamming his second shot into the grandstand, the ball ricocheting back into deep rough. His third shot ended up in the burn and the Frenchman memorably even waded into the burn to see if he could play the ball.


Eventually Van de Velde signed for a triple bogey seven, leaving him in a play off with Justin Leonard and the eventual winner, Paul Lawrie. This was a collapse so great that if a player collapses in a tournament, it is know noted by fellow professionals as “pulling a Van de Velde.”



1985 – Bernhard Langer & David Graham

The 1985 British Open is often remembered for Peter Jacobsen tackling a streaker at the 18th hole (see video below) but it also glosses over what was one of the least well known double-chokes in golf history.


In the final round with a three shot lead over the field, Germany’s Bernhard Langer and David Graham of the United States, both Major champions, looked set for a duel to decide the winner. However on a dramatic day of golf, it was Scot Sandy Lyle who held his nerve, coming through the pack to snatch victory and earn British Golf it’s first winner in the Open for 16 years.


1972 – Tony Jacklin

In a recent interview, Tony Jacklin admitted his experience at the 1972 British Open at Muirfield was one of the most difficult of his entire career. At the 17th hole, Jacklin had found the par 5 with two shots and had an eagle putt to gain the outright lead.

Playing partner and co-leader Lee Trevino however was in a bunker by the 17th green after three shots. At worst, it seemed Jacklin would earn a share of the lead and Trevino maintain a share heading up the 18th.


However Trevino thinned his sand shot sending the ball whizzing through the green. The Englishman now held a clear advantage, or so it seemed. Trevino, so angry at himself for fluffing his bunker shot, barely took time over his chip from the edge of the green but somehow nailed it to perfection, sending the ball into the hole for an unlikely bunker.


That single shot rattled Jacklin’s confidence and the Englishman, normally so assured on the green, three putted from 15 feet, leaving himself one behind the now outright leader Trevino who would hang on to win from Jacklin and compatriot Jack Nicklaus.



1970 – Doug Sanders
With Jack Nicklaus holding the clubhouse lead on 5-under, playing behind him the talented Doug Sanders, a winner of several events on the PGA Tour, had driven the 18th at St Andrews perfectly, putting himself in perfect position to attack the flag.

Sanders was 6-under and needed just a par at the 18th hole to earn his first ever Major title. His second shot was a conservative approach to the green, but left Sanders a fair way from the hole, but he lagged his third shot superbly towards the hole, leaving the ball just two feet short for the win.


As he settled for his final putt to become Champion,.he settled back over the ball and just as he was about to hit it, the blowing wind at St Andrews blew something across his line. Sanders stopped to pick up what had landed in his line, and quickly settled back to take his putt. Nerves had clearly got to Sanders now and he hit a dreadful edgy putt which scraped the hole but did not fall in.


Nicklaus and Sanders returned the following day for the playoff, Nicklaus making birdie at the 18th to claim an unlikely win. Sanders, never won a major, despite winning 20 PGA Tour titles in his career.



Images Courtesy of Gorilla Golf, Adam Scott Facebook Page.


Be Sociable, Share!
Be Sociable, Share!
« Return home


If you enjoyed this post please leave us your comment below

The Grateful Golfer July 23, 2013

Thanks for the post. Unfortunately, making your top five is not something most pros would like to be know for! It is a great reminder that anything can happen during a tournament and staying focused is extremely important to playing well.



Course Catalog September 2, 2013

I agree with most statements made here. The ability to understand The Five Most Devastating Chokes at the British Open in this market will show your strength in the future. Tommy I hope you keep writing more blogs like this one. I like this one Tommy.