Muirfield history of hosting Open is storied

Gary Player after winning the British Open at Muirfield in 1959.

Gary Player after winning the British Open at Muirfield in 1959.

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Big names. Playoffs. Narrow wins.

Muirfield has seen it all in the 15 times it has hosted the Open Championship through the years. This year's defending champion, Ernie Els, stood tall in 2002 at Muirfield – even as Tiger Woods was done in by freak weather. Harry Vardon needed a playoff to secure a win in the second Open held at Muirfield. Nick Faldo won here twice – after a run featuring champions named Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Gary Player, no less.

Four times, the winner held a lead of just a shot after 72 holes. Twice, a playoff has been needed.

Despite some tweaking to the Muirfield layout players will face this year (read Bradley S. Klein's hole-by-hole analysis here), it's a historic patch of ground.

Here's a capsule look at the 15 previous British Opens held at Muirfield Golf Club, where the 2013 Open Championship will be played this week.

• • •

2002: Ernie Els in playoff

SCORE: 278.

RUNNERS-UP: Thomas Levet, Stuart Appleby, Steve Elkington.

EARNINGS: 700,000 pounds.

RECAP: Tiger Woods' bid for a calendar Grand Slam ended Saturday when the weather turned nasty for a two-hour spell, sending the Masters and U.S. Open champion to an 81, his worst score as a professional. Ernie Els steadied himself for a 72 to stay in the lead, and with a splendid bunker save on the 13th, the Big Easy was sailing right along. But he took a double bogey on the 16th hole, and had to finish birdie-par to join a record four-man playoff with Thomas Levet, Stuart Appleby and Steve Elkington. The Aussies were eliminated after the four-hole aggregate. Els saved par from a greenside bunker on the 18th hole — the fifth playoff hole — to beat Levet and win his first claret jug.

NOTEWORTHY: This was the first time the British Open had been decided by sudden death in a playoff.

• • •

1992: Nick Faldo by a shot

SCORE: 272.

RUNNER-UP: John Cook.

EARNINGS: 95,000 pounds.

RECAP: Nick Faldo could be so tactical that he looked like a machine at times, especially with a major on the line. This was not one of those occasions. Despite a blistering start, a four-shot lead after 54 holes and a four-shot lead with nine holes to play, Faldo had to rally. Faldo made three bogeys, John Cook birdied the 15th and 16th, and suddenly the American was two shots ahead. Faldo then played four of his best holes in a major, starting with a 5-iron to 3 feet on the 15th. Cook missed a 3-foot birdie putt on the 17th and bogeyed the 18th. Faldo needed only a par on the 18th to win, and he hit 3-iron into the green to secure the most nervous win of his six majors.

NOTEWORTHY: In the last 21 years, no one has scored lower than Faldo's 130 through 36 holes in any major.

• • •

1987: Nick Faldo by a shot

SCORE: 279.

RUNNER-UP: Paul Azinger.

EARNINGS: 75,000 pounds.

RECAP: Nick Faldo spent two years overhauling his swing with David Leadbetter, and it paid off with his first major championship at Muirfield. But like most of his six majors, he needed some help. In wind so strong that four of the holes were shortened in the third round to allow players to reach the fairway, Azinger had a 71 and took the lead by one shot going into the last day. Faldo plodded his way around Muirfield with 18 pars for a 71. Azinger had a one-shot lead when he took bogey on the 17th, and then found a bunker and closed with another bogey for a 73 to finish one shot behind.

NOTEWORTHY: David Feherty had a 67 for the low round of the weekend. He tied for 26th.

• • •

1980: Tom Watson by 4

SCORE: 271.

RUNNER-UP: Lee Trevino.

EARNINGS: 25,000 pounds.

RECAP: Tom Watson made it three claret jugs in six years, all on different links in Scotland. Lee Trevino made a gallant bid at winning again at Muirfield by opening with rounds of 68-67 for a three-shot lead. Watson, however, pulled away with a 64 in the third round to go four shots clear of Trevino, and there was little drama in the final round. Watson closed with a 69, matching the low score on Sunday, for a four-shot win.

NOTEWORTHY: Isao Aoki had a 63 in the third round. It remains the lowest score ever at Muirfield.

• • •

1972: Lee Trevino by a shot

SCORE: 278.

RUNNER-UP: Jack Nicklaus.

EARNINGS: 5,500 pounds.

RECAP: Jack Nicklaus won the Masters and U.S. Open, and returned to Muirfield with hopes of a Grand Slam. He fell six shots behind Lee Trevino after three rounds, and it appeared to be a two-man race between Trevino and Tony Jacklin. Nicklaus put on a great charge Sunday and at one point was tied for the lead until he couldn't sustain it and closed with a 66. Trevino and Jacklin were tied with two holes to play, with the advantage to Jacklin. He had 20 feet for birdie, while Trevino was over the green on the par-5 17th in four shots. Trevino chipped in for par, Jacklin three-putted for bogey, and Trevino won his second straight Open. Jacklin bogeyed the last to finish third.

NOTEWORTHY: After watching Trevino chip and putt his way to the title, Tony Jacklin never again had a top 10 in the British Open.

• • •

1966: Jack Nicklaus by a shot

SCORE: 282.

RUNNER-UP: Doug Sanders, Dave Thomas.

MARGIN: 1 shot.

EARNINGS: 2,100 pounds.

RECAP: Jack Nicklaus finally won the claret jug in his fifth try. The British Open went to four days for the first time to stay in line with the other three professional majors. Nicklaus opened with 70-67 for the 36-hole lead, but a 75 in the third round left him two shots behind American Phil Rodgers. Rodgers faded with a 76. Dave Thomas of Wales closed with a 69, while Doug Sanders had a 70. Nicklaus regained the lead with a birdie on the par-5 17th, and then he two putted from about 20 feet for par on the 18th to win by one shot.

NOTEWORTHY: Jack Nicklaus (Muirfield), Ben Hogan (Carnoustie) and Tiger Woods (St. Andrews) completed the Grand Slam at the British Open on three Scottish links.

• • •

1959: Gary Player by 2

SCORE: 284.

RUNNER-UP: Fred Bullock, Flory van Donck.

EARNINGS: 1,000 pounds.

RECAP: Gary Player won the first of his nine major championships, although he thought he had thrown this one away. Player was eight shots behind Fred Bullock after the second round, and cut the deficit in half with a 70 in the third. He continued racing up the leaderboard and came to the 18th hole needing a par for a 66. Instead, he found a bunker off the tee and three-putted from about 25 feet for a 68. Player was somber leaving the green, but no one was able to catch him. He won by two shots over Bullock and Flory van Donck of Belgium.

NOTEWORTHY: The 90-man field included only three Americans. Arnold Palmer played the British Open for the first time a year later, and that soon changed.

• • •

1948: Henry Cotton by 5

SCORE: 284.

RUNNER-UP: Fred Daly.

EARNINGS: 150 pounds.

RECAP: Much like his first Open title, when Henry Cotton set a scoring record of 65 at Royal St. George's, all it took was one great round at Muirfield for him to seize control. Two shots behind after the first day, Cotton shot a 66 in the second round to take a four-shot lead into the second day. The weather turned nasty for the 36-hole final, and Cotton was never challenged. He closed with rounds of 75-72 — no broke 70 the final two rounds — and won his third Open by five shots.

NOTEWORTHY: Roberto De Vicenzo made his British Open debut and tied for third. He would win the claret jug 19 years later.

• • •

1935: Alfred Perry by 4

SCORE: 283.

RUNNER-UP: Alf Padgham.

EARNINGS: 100 pounds.

RECAP: Henry Cotton began his title defense with a 68, only to fall back as Charles Whitcombe had a 68 on the second day to take the lead. Alf Perry took the lead for the first time with a 67 in the third round, giving him a one-shot advantage over Whitcombe heading into the afternoon. A strong player and accurate with the fairway woods, Perry closed with a 72 and won his only Open title comfortably. Alf Padgham never shot worse than 74 all week and finished second. The low American was Lawson Little, the U.S. and British Amateur champion. He would win the U.S. Open five years later as a pro.

NOTEWORTHY: Perry's 283 stood as the low score at Muirfield until Jack Nicklaus beat it by one shot in 1966.

• • •

1929: Walter Hagen by 6

SCORE: 292.

RUNNER-UP: Johnny Farrell.

EARNINGS: 75 pounds.

RECAP: Old Tom Morris laid out the links in the late 19th century, but Harry Colt was brought in to lengthen and revamp Muirfield. This was the first British Open since Colt's work, and Walter Hagen captured his fourth and final British Open. Six shots behind after the first round, Hagen set a then-championship record with a 67 in the second round. In wind so vicious it toppled tents, Hagen shot 75 in the third round to build a four-shot lead over Percy Alliss, and closed with another 75 to win by six.

NOTEWORTHY: During this era, Americans won the British Open nine times in a 12-year stretch.

• • •

1912: Ted Ray by 4

SCORE: 295.

RUNNER-UP: Harry Vardon.

EARNINGS: 50 pounds.

RECAP: Even though Muirfield had been lengthened to 6,425 yards, it was no match for the big-hitting Ted Ray, who was able to drive the green on the 13th and 15th holes, both more than 300 yards. Ray went wire-to-wire, opening with a 71. He had a five-shot lead over James Braid going into the final 18 holes, and won by four shots despite a 75 in the last round and Harry Vardon's 71.

NOTEWORTHY: At age 35, Ray was the oldest player to capture his first British Open since Mungo Park (39) in 1874.

• • •

1906: James Braid by 4

SCORE: 300.

RUNNER-UP: J.H. Taylor.

EARNINGS: 50 pounds.

RECAP: This was the third and final time that James Braid, Harry Vardon and J.H. Taylor finished 1-2-3 (not always in that order). Braid repeated as Open champion, and he won for the second straight time at Muirfield with his score getting progressively better each round. He was four shots behind going into the final day, and still trailed Taylor by three shots going into the final 18. Braid closed with a 73 as Taylor shot 80.

NOTEWORTHY: The field started with a record 181 players.

• • •

1901: James Braid by 3

SCORE: 309.

RUNNER-UP: Harry Vardon.

EARNINGS: 50 pounds.

RECAP: Harry Vardon and J.H. Taylor had won six of the previous seven championships when it returned to Muirfield. Braid won the first of his five Open Championships. Tied with Vardon after the opening day, Braid pulled away with a 74 to build a five-shot lead over Vardon, and closed with an 80 for a three-shot win over Vardon. Taylor was alone in third. No one else was within seven shots.

NOTEWORTHY: This was the second straight year the Great Triumvirate — Harry Vardon, J.H. Taylor and James Braid — occupied the first three spots.

• • •

1896: Harry Vardon in a playoff

SCORE: 316.

RUNNER-UP: J.H. Taylor

EARNINGS: 30 pounds.

RECAP: Harry Vardon won the first of his record six British Open titles after outlasting J.H. Taylor in a 36-hole playoff. Vardon was 11 shots behind Sandy Herd after opening with an 83, and he was still six shots behind J.H. Taylor going into the last day. Herd shot 85 in the final round. Vardon closed with a 77 and forced a playoff with Taylor, who had an 80. In the playoff, Vardon shot 157 to beat Taylor by four shots.

NOTEWORTHY: Old Tom Morris competed for the last time in the British Open. At age 75, he had rounds of 101, 103 and 105 and withdrew from the final 18 holes.

• • •

1892: Harold Hilton by 3

SCORE: 305.

RUNNER-UP: John Ball Jr., Sandy Herd, Hugh Kirkaldy.

EARNINGS: Nil (amateur).

RECAP: One year after The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers moved from Musselburgh to Muirfield, it hosted its first Open Championship. Entry fees were introduced for the first time to improve the quality of the field. English amateur Harold Hilton was seven shots behind after the first day of 36 holes. He closed with rounds of 72-74 on the second day — the low score of the third and fourth rounds — for a three-shot win. This remains the only time in major championship history that an amateur finished first and second.

NOTEWORTHY: This was the first British Open contested over two days and 72 holes.

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