The Open: The unmatched history of golf's oldest major

By Sports Desk July 13, 2022

The Open Championship boasts a history practically unmatched in the sporting world, with the famous St Andrews primed to host the 150th edition of golf's oldest major this week.

As the world's best players prepare to tee it up at the home of golf, all in the field will be hoping to write their names into the pages of this storied event.

Ahead of what promises to be a thrilling week of action on the east coast of Scotland, Stats Perform has delved into the history books to bring you the most intriguing facts and figures surrounding the most historic of golf's majors.

HARD LUCK JACK AND HAPPY HARRY

Nobody boasts more Open triumphs than the six claimed by the legendary Harry Vardon, who first prevailed in 1896 and last lifted the Claret Jug in 1914.

But for every winner there are those who nurse the heartbreak of narrowly missing out, and nobody became more familiar with that feeling than Jack Nicklaus.

With 18 major wins to his name, including three at The Open, it might be a stretch to summon too much sympathy for Nicklaus, but he had to make do with finishing second or in a tie for second on no fewer than seven occasions. 

IF AT FIRST YOU DON'T SUCCEED...

When Collin Morikawa won at Royal St George's last year, he became the 10th player to taste success on debut.

That tells you that most players have to be patient when it comes to laying hands on the famous silverware, and for some that wait never ends.

But there are those for whom persistence has paid off handsomely – namely Darren Clarke and Phil Mickelson, who both finally triumphed at the 19th time of asking.

 

WIRE-TO-WIRE WINS ARE RARE

Only seven players have enjoyed wire-to-wire victories at a 72-hole Open, whereby they have held the outright lead at the end of all four rounds.

Rory McIlroy was the most recent example, achieving the feat at Royal Liverpool in 2014.

The last player to manage it at St Andrews was a certain Tiger Woods in 2005 – the second of his three Open wins as he retained his title the following year.

START FAST, FINISH STRONG

In 2010, St Andrews was the stage for the lowest opening round by an eventual winner as Louis Oosthuizen flew out of the traps with a 65.

Jordan Spieth equalled that with his first-round effort at Royal Birkdale in 2017, which was the year after Henrik Stenson had showed the importance of finishing with a flourish when his closing 63 saw off the challenge of Phil Mickelson at Royal Troon.

It also helps if your middle two rounds are solid, but very few players manage to put together four consistent sets of 18. Indeed, Woods is the only player to card four sub-70 rounds at St Andrews, doing so en route to his 2005 victory.

DON'T THROW IT AWAY NOW!

There is arguably no other sport that tests the psychological limits of its protagonists more than golf, which has seen more than its fair share of mental meltdowns.

Many will be familiar with the nightmare story of Jean Van de Velde's Open collapse in 1999 when he below a five-stroke lead after 54 holes – his hopes left to drown in Carnoustie's Barry Burn.

But that is not the biggest lead surrendered at The Open, with that dubious honour still belonging to Abe Mitchell, who led by six after two rounds in 1920 but ended up four adrift of champion George Duncan.

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  • Tiger Woods won't pursue surgery on foot injury Tiger Woods won't pursue surgery on foot injury

    Tiger Woods will not pursue surgery on the foot injury that saw him withdraw from this week's Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.

    The 15-time major champion was due to play his first competitive event since missing the cut at The Open back in July but has been suffering with plantar fasciitis in his right foot.

    Woods had been scheduled to play three events in December, though it remains to be seen if he will play at all. 

    The legendary American had been aiming to up his workload having played only three times last season due to the broken leg he sustained in a car accident in February 2021.

    He explained that his latest issue will be treated with a "stretch and relax" method rather than going under the knife.

    "You don’t want to go down the surgical route," Woods told the Golf Channel. "Injections, surgical, or just stretch and relax, and I chose to stretch and relax.

    "Get off your feet, which I have done and continue to do. Also sleep at night with a boot on; try to stretch it out."

    The injury, according to the PGA Tour's official website, affects around two million people in the United States and causes a stabbing pain near the heel as a result of an inflammation of a thick band of tissue.

    Woods explained how playing full 18-hole rounds is tricky with the injury.

    "When you first step out of bed, it's like, 'Oh my God'," he added.

    "It's just a long haul. I just can't walk for too long a period of time."

  • Ghana have shot at revenge against Uruguay in ultimate World Cup grudge match Ghana have shot at revenge against Uruguay in ultimate World Cup grudge match

    As far as World Cup grudge matches go, not many – if any – can rival Ghana against Uruguay this century.

    Twelve and a half years on from 'that' match in Johannesburg, the footage of Luis Suarez celebrating his next-level dark arts – some would use a stronger term – remains engrained in the memory.

    While revenge may not be the main motive for winning Friday's latest encounter between the sides – or at least not in the view of Ghana boss Otto Addo – the Black Stars will be relishing the chance to get one over on Suarez and Co.

    The prize on the line is not as big as in 2010, when Uruguay's penalty shoot-out win took them through to the World Cup semi-finals, but should Ghana avoid defeat at Al Janoub Stadium they will be through to the last 16 in Qatar.

    Ahead of the tasty tussle, Stats Perform looks at why their only previous World Cup meeting was so notorious and what exactly is on the line this time around.

    "The hand of God now belongs to me" 

    Those are the words credited to Suarez in 2010, referencing Diego Maradona's equally as infamous goal for Argentina against England in the 1986 World Cup and clearly taking some pride in his act of gamesmanship.

    Public enemy number one in Ghana and wider parts of Africa he may have been, but back home in Uruguay he was elevated towards legendary status.

    "I always say if I was Suarez, I'd have done the same thing to save my country. He's a hero there," said Ghana great Asamoah Gyan. "People hate him, but he did what he had to do to get his country to the semi-final."

    So what exactly did Suarez do to become hated or loved to the highest degree, depending on exactly who you ask?

    No, the then-Ajax striker did not bite anyone – not in that game, at least – but rather used another part of his body to help send his country through at Ghana's expense.

    After Diego Forlan had cancelled out Sulley Muntari's opener to take the match to extra-time, penalties loomed to determine who would reach the last four in South Africa.

    Ghana looked the more likely side to score a winner in their bid to become the first African side to reach the semis of the competition, at which point Suarez illegally handled Dominic Adiyiah's goal-bound shot.

    "Illegally handled" is one way of putting it; a great two-handed save on the line is another. Suarez did what was necessary to prevent Adiyiah's late effort from eliminating Uruguay, who went on to lose 3-2 to the Netherlands in the next round.

    A red card was his punishment, though it was ultimately worth it as Gyan struck the crossbar from the subsequent spot-kick and it was Uruguay who went through on penalties after the game finished 1-1 at the end of 120 minutes.

     

    The state of play 12 years on

    More than the act itself, it was arguably the way Suarez stood on the edge of the pitch and wildly celebrated Gyan's missed effort that angered Ghana supporters so much.

    The man who had just denied them their greatest day was about to enjoy his own greatest day – or at least with his national side, having had so much success at club level, where he is now plying his trade for Nacional once again.

    And so we arrive full circle to the current day in Al-Wakrah, where on Friday it will be heartbreak for at least one of Ghana or Uruguay.

    After a thrilling 3-2 victory over South Korea to follow up a just as lively 3-2 loss to Portugal, Ghana are second in Group H and will be assured of a place in the knockout stage should they win.

    A draw, just like in Bloemfontein, may also be enough for Ghana should South Korea fail to beat group leaders Portugal.

    Uruguay, who have failed to score in a stalemate with South Korea and 2-0 loss to Portugal, need to win and hope Portugal avoid defeat against South Korea.

    Not quite winner takes all, then, but the stakes remain incredibly high in this huge grudge match, which Suarez will be hopeful of starting.

    "I'm a guy who doesn't think too much in the past when this incident happened," Ghana boss Addo said in the build-up to the match. "I'm a strong believer if you don't seek revenge, you get even more blessings."

    Maybe so. But by beating Uruguay on Friday to exact that revenge, Ghana will have blessings that may yet take them even further than the magical run 12 years ago that ended in the most crushing of manners.

    Either way, in what will surely be his final World Cup, you would not bet against that man Suarez taking centre stage regardless of the outcome.

  • NBA Game of the Week: Bulls hunting first win over the Warriors since 2017 NBA Game of the Week: Bulls hunting first win over the Warriors since 2017

    The Golden State Warriors (11-11) have a golden opportunity to climb back above .500 when they host the 9-12 Chicago Bulls on Thursday.

    Both teams entered the season with lofty expectations, but have sputtered out of the gates, struggling in areas they are meant to excel in.

    With four championships since 2015, the Warriors have been widely regarded as the greatest shooting team the game has ever seen, but the underlying factor of their greatest years has always been their defense.

    Boasting the league's best defensive efficiency in their 2014-15 championship season, second-best for their 2016-17 title, and 11th for their 2017-18 crown – the Warriors rediscovered their dominance on that end of the floor this past season to finish as the second-best defense en route to another ring.

    That has cratered this campaign, with Golden State currently allowing 113.4 points per 100 possessions for the 21st-ranked defense.

    What that means is that some of the Warriors' point totals from their eighth-ranked offense are going to waste, having scored over 110 points in seven of their 11 losses so far.

    Meanwhile, the Bulls have committed to offensively-minded scorers DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic and Zach Lavine as their core trio, but currently own the 22nd-best offense.

    In a clash between two sides struggling to establish an identity, the result could simply come down to which side's X-factor shows up – or more specifically, which one shoots the lights out.

    PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

    Golden State Warriors - Klay Thompson

    Klay Thompson is a Warriors legend, a future Hall-of-Famer and one of the greatest shooters in the history of the NBA – but he has never been less efficient than he is right now.

    However, when Thompson is feeling it this season, the Warriors win. Shooting 35.5 per cent from the field and 32.5 per cent from deep in losses, Thompson's numbers skyrocket to 43.7 per cent from the field and 44.7 per cent on three-pointers in the 10 wins he has played in.

    Only the Boston Celtics score a higher percentage of their points from three-pointers (41.7 per cent) than the Warriors (41.2 per cent), so it makes sense that when their secondary sharpshooter catches fire, good things happen.

    Chicago Bulls - Zach Lavine

    While the Warriors rely on a heavy dose of three-pointers to put up their points, the Bulls are the opposite, leading the league in their percentage of points that come from the mid-range (14.6 per cent).

    This is primarily due to DeRozan's affinity for the mid-range, and in turn, it leaves them 28th in the percentage of points that come from the three-point line (27.4 per cent).

    To outgun the Warriors, you need to score big, and the Bulls' best bet to get hot from deep is Zach Lavine.

    Making 2.8 threes per game, he is the only Bulls player averaging more than Coby White's 1.5, and his win/loss splits are eerily similar to Thompson's.

    He is hitting 3.6 threes at 43.9 per cent in wins, and 2.1 threes at 26.4 per cent in losses, indicating his outsized importance and responsibility for the interior-heavy Bulls offense.

    KEY BATTLE - Can the Bulls slow down the Warriors' ball movement?

    While the Bulls' offense has been disappointing, their defense has actually been a pleasant surprise, climbing from the 23rd-ranked unit last season up to the 11th-best this time around.

    Golden State's porous defense and second-highest pace in the league could provide a perfect environment for the Bulls to put up a big score, so it may come down to if they can force Stephen Curry to beat them by himself.

    While Curry has been spectacular, averaging 31.4 points, the Warriors lead the league in assists per game at 29.7, so if the Bulls can figure out how to force the Warriors into isolations and restrict their quick passing, they can force the reigning champions to play the game out of their comfort zone.

     

    HEAD-TO-HEAD

    This will be the first meeting between the Warriors and Bulls this campaign after two fixtures in the 2021-22 season – resulting in two convincing Golden State wins.

    The champions-in-waiting hammered the Bulls 119-93 last November, before following it up with a 138-96 thrashing in January, making it 10 consecutive victories against Chicago dating back to 2017.

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