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The Open: Most memorable Sundays

There’s nothing quite like a Sunday at a major. 

After three days of competition, 18 holes stands between a handful of players and golfing immortality.

And while each of the four majors have had their share of memorable Sundays, The Open Championship trumps them all. 

Here, we take a look at the most memorable Sundays from The Open.

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1977

Battles between two parties in golf that are so hotly contested that they earn their own name are typically reserved for the Ryder Cup.

The War on the Shore, the Battle of Brookline and the Miracle at Medinah were all famous Ryder Cup contests, but the 1977 Open earned its own moniker.

The Duel in the Sun, a final round – final two rounds, in fact – so memorable the tournament earned its own title, as Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson went toe-to-toe at Turnberry.

After the second round, the legendary pair were tied on -2, one shot off the lead, and would be paired together for the Saturday. After two 65s, Nicklaus and Watson had established separation from the rest of the pack, sharing a three-shot lead going into Sunday.

A two-shot swing on the second gave Nicklaus an early advantage which extended with a birdie on the fourth. But three unanswered birdies from Watson brought him level before bogeying the ninth to reach the turn one behind. 

Nicklaus birdied the 12th, Watson the 13th. Watson would finally get level with a monster putt from off the green on 15, birdieing the final two holes to just about hold off Nicklaus. 

Even par was good enough to finish fourth, and -1 was good enough to finish third. -10 wouldn’t have been good enough to claim second, with Nicklaus and Watson finishing 10 and 11 shots clear of the field.

Nicklaus was the first man to finish a major in fewer than 270 blows with 269. Watson set his own record a minute later with 268.

Nicklaus would go on to win 18 majors, but one of his finest performances came in one that got away. 

1987

The early 1980s saw the emergence of Nick Faldo as one of Europe's best and most promising golfers. But a lack of major wins saw him totally remodel his swing which took a couple of years to reap the rewards of. Faldo was Europe's points leader for the 1983 Ryder Cup, but needed a wildcard in 1985.

He'd often fallen short when in the mix with people questioning his mentality, but with his new swing, he hoped he had a weapon he could rely on when the going got tough.

The third round of the 1987 Open at Muirfield was played in hugely testing conditions, with several holes shortened due to the wind, and Faldo trailed Paul Azinger by one shot going into Sunday.

Two-under at the turn, Azinger's lead was reduced from three to one as he approached the closing stretch.

Faldo parred all 18 holes in his final round, while Azinger bogeyed 17 and 18 to finish a shot back.

After two years in the wilderness, Faldo finally got his reward.

1999

At the start of the year, Paul Lawrie wasn’t even ranked inside the world’s top 225 golfers. By the start of The Open, he was still outside the top 150, and 10 strokes behind leader Jean van de Velde going into Sunday, the Scot was unlikely to make too big a jump.

But a low final round of 67 – one of only four scores better than 70 on that Sunday – saw him finish T2 with Justin Leonard. 

Or so he thought.

Van de Velde’s five-shot lead from the start of the day was down to three 

Mindblowing decisions off the tee – and then from the rough – from the Frenchman brought disaster. Taking driver – believing he was only two shots clear – off the tee was the first mistake. Instead of laying up, Van de Velde went for the green in two, crashing into the grandstand and into knee-deep rough. 

From the rough and into the burn, Van de Velde provided perhaps the most iconic image in Open history. Shoes and socks off, the Frenchman waded in, eventually thinking better of it, taking a drop. He now needed to get up and down in two shots to win. 

He then found the bunker, and holed a six-foot putt for a triple bogey to force a three-man play-off.

Van de Velde double bogeyed the first of the four-hole play-off, missing out by three strokes as Lawrie won his first and only major.

2003

With a 54-hole lead, Thomas Bjorn had put himself in the enviable position of being three shots clear with four holes to play – but not after Ben Curtis had made a charge. Six birdies in his first 11 holes saw the American two clear of Bjorn before bogeys on 12, 14, 15 and 17 surely killed his chances. 

Caddie Billy Foster, having seen his man bogey 15, knew that anything right of the pin was dead, and with a two-shot lead, told his man to aim 30 feet left of the pin. Sure enough, Bjorn found the bunker, and saw his first two attempts roll back to him. 

A bogey on the 17th meant Bjorn had to chip in on the last for birdie to force to a play-off which came up just short. 

Ben Curtis won his first major on his very first attempt. Bjorn would never get as close.

2009

Where to begin with 2009… 

In 1977, Tom Watson won The Open at Turnberry in one of the greatest ever golfing performances. But what so nearly transpired 32 years later would’ve arguably surpassed it.

Far removed from his pomp of the late 70s and early 80s, Watson had been playing on the Champions Tour since 1999, winning the Senior Open in 2003 (also at Turnberry) and 2007.

But a remarkable performance saw Watson one off the lead after the first round and in a share of the lead after the second. His one-stroke lead on Saturday evening made him, at 59 years of age, the oldest golfer in history to hold a lead in a major.

Stewart Cink would set a clubhouse lead of -2, and a tap-in birdie for Watson meant he just needed to par the 72nd hole.

From the middle of the fairway, with the wind behind him, Watson’s approach hopped past the flag and ran off the back of the green. 

Leaving himself an eight-foot par putt to win, Watson never gave it a chance and went to a play-off. 

It’s rare the story is about the loser more so than the winner than the winner, but that was sadly the case in 2009.

2012

Adam Scott had spent the better part of a year in and around the world’s top 10 golfers, but a first major awaited him.

His stellar play over the first three days left him four shots clear going into the final round, bidding to become Australia’s fourth Open champion.

Though Scott faltered on the front nine, so did his rivals. Ernie Els and Graeme McDowell reached the turn two-over-par, while Tiger Woods and Brandt Snedeker both made double bogeys on their front nine.

Conservative golf produced seven consecutive pars before a birdie on the 14th gave Scott real separation. Four clear with four to play, and four more pars would be more than enough to win.

Finding a greenside bunker on 15, Scott missed an eight-foot par putt. The lead was three. 

Scott bounced back well, safely finding the 16th green, but saw a three-foot par putt horseshoe out. The lead was two.

Els holed a mid-range birdie putt on 18 and the lead was one.

Scott missed the 17th green left and couldn’t get up and down. The lead was gone. Scott now needed to par the last just to force a play-off.

Scott opted against driver off the 18th tee, finding a fairway bunker, but launched a dart at the pin to make the play-off.

But another eight-foot putt missed a fraction left, and Els was the Champion Golfer of the Year once again. 

2016

After Turnberry in 1977 was Troon in 2016 as Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson went head to head.

The first round was perhaps a sign of things to come for Mickelson. With a 16-foot putt to shoot the first ever 62 at a major championship, he saw his effort agonising lip out. So near, yet so far…

Stenson and Mickelson were paired together on the Saturday, already two and three shots clear of the field, extending that further.

Going into the final round, Stenson was -12, Mickelson -11, and Bill Haas next on -6.

Momentum would swing one way and then the other throughout the final round. A two-shot swing on the opening hole saw Mickelson retake the lead. Stenson birdied the second, third and fourth holes, but Mickelson’s eagle on the fourth saw him retain a share of the lead.

Stenson would birdie eight but bogey 11, with his run of birdies on 14, 15 and 16 – the first of which was from 50 feet from off the green – finally putting some separation between him and his opponent.

Mickelson’s 267 shots tied the previous record low set by Greg Norman. But three strokes better, Stenson would win his first major after a contest for the ages.

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