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The Open's Top 10 Nearly Men

Those who came within touching distance of the Claret Jug

Posted Jul 09, 2009 by Iestyn George

1. Doug Sanders
Anyone with a heart still shivers at the sight of the awful involuntary jerk that Doug Sanders’ body made after missing that fateful two-foot putt to win the 1970 Open at St Andrews. He battled bravely in the ensuing play-off against Jack Nicklaus, before Jack holed from seven feet on the 18th hole for victory.

2. Jean Van De Velde
Endless replays of the final hole of the 1999 Open at Carnoustie will have every golf fan squirming uncomfortably or shouting irrationally at the TV for the rest of time. Needless to say, the result will stay the same. Van De Velde needed a double-bogey to win and carded a treble. Paul Lawrie won the play-off that followed and Van De Velde never got near the top of the leaderboard at a Major again.

3. Thomas Bjorn
A strong man with a fragile soul, the 2003 Open at Royal St George’s was arguably the Dane’s most calamitous episode, when he took three shots to get out of the sand three holes from home, giving the unheralded Ben Curtis the opportunity to become the unlikely winner.

4. Sergio Garcia
The enduring image of the 2007 Open at Carnoustie is Sergio Garcia slumped over his belly putter, having just missed a par putt at the 18th which would have rid the unwanted tag of best player never to win a Major for once and for all. He led from the start, threw away his lead on the final day and then regained it. Padraig Harrington also faltered at the last, but won the ensuing play-off comfortably.

5. Roger Wethered
Top English amateur and brother of Joyce, the legendary women’s player, took a one-shot penalty for stepping on his ball by mistake during the 1921 Open at St Andrews. He ended up in a 36 hole play-off with Jock Hutchinson, which he had to be persuaded to take part in as he had a prior engagement playing for his local cricket team. He lost by nine shots.

6. Jesper Parnevik
One of a small number of Scandinavian players who could have won The Open, he had a great run of Top 10 finishes in the 1990s and blew his best chance in 1994 at Turnberry when he played for the pin at the 72nd hole and carded a bogey when a par would have been enough to beat eventual winner Nick Price.

7. Hale Irwin
If there’s a sense that some tour players are beginning to test the rules a little these days, it certainly wasn’t the case in 1983 at Birkdale, when Hale Irwin called a penalty on himself, having missed a two-inch tap-in during his second round. He would end up in a tie for second place with Andy Bean, behind eventual winner Tom Watson.

8. Harry Bradshaw
They say it takes a lot of bottle to win The Open; unfortunately for the Irishman landing his ball in a bottle during the second round of the 1949 Open at Sandwich arguably lost him the championship. Worried about taking a free drop he smashed through the bottle and dropped two shots on the hole. Two days later, he was locked in a 36-hole play-off with Bobby Locke: and lost.

9. Al Watrous
Many players let their nerves get the better of them when it really matters, but for the Polish-American Al Watrous it was the genius of Bobby Jones on the penultimate hole of the 1926 Open at Lytham that rattled him. Jones made a fantastic up-and-down having found the bunker with his tee shot, while Watrous three-putted. And the rest, as they so often say, is history…

10. Dai Rees
The victorious Ryder Cup captain of 1957 played in 29 Open Championships, came runner-up in 1953, ’54 and ’61, but never won The Open. Sam Torrance and Neil Coles played 28 and 27 times respectively and also returned home empty-handed every time. 

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