The 2012 Open Championship, often referred to as the British Open, will take place at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club in Lancashire, England this week. The world's best golfers will compete for the Claret Jug, which is one of the most prestigious trophies in all of sports.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the British Open is the fascinating courses that are chosen each year. Unlike many American courses, the ones selected for the British Open rarely have many holes where trees and water present problems for the golfers.
England and Scotland follow a rotation each year that determines which country will host the event, and some notable courses that regularly host it include the Old Course at St. Andrews, Muirfield and Royal St. George's Golf Club.
The British Open is the oldest of the four major championships, with the first tournament being held in 1860. Since 1970, the tournament has been won by American players 25 times. Stewart Cink's win at Turnberry in 2009 is the most recent United States triumph.
Let's look at the greatest champions in the history of the British Open.
Tom Morris Sr. won the second ever British Open in 1861 and went on to win the tournament four times in his amazing career (1861, 1862, 1864, 1867). He quickly became the tournament's most dominant player when he captured his fourth win in 1867, becoming the first man to ever win the British Open that many times.
His convincing victory in 1862 by 13 strokes is the largest margin of victory in tournament history.
Morris won in 1867 when he was 46 years old, which to this day remains a record for the oldest winner in tournament history.
Morris was the first great golfer at the British Open and set the standard of excellence to which all great players have followed since.
Peter Thomson of Australia is one of four men who have won the British Open five times. He won the tournament in 1954, 1955, 1956, 1958 and 1965. Thomson and Greg Norman are the only Australian players to ever win the British Open multiple times.
Thomson was one of the better under-pressure players in tournament history, evidenced by the fact that his margin of victory in all five of his British Open wins was three strokes or fewer.
He is also the only golfer since 1900 to win four British Open championships in a five-year span. Not even players as talented as Tom Watson, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus have been able to do that. It's unlikely that we ever see that kind of consistency ever again at the tournament.
Thomson is one of the greatest champions in the history of the event and someone that all Australian golfers look up to.
John Henry Taylor won the British Open five times (1894-95, 1900, 1909, 1913), which is the most wins ever for an Englishman at the tournament. Taylor also finished as the runner-up at the tournament six times, the second highest total ever.
Recent generations of Englishmen at the British Open have not had anywhere near the same success as Taylor.
Since 1950, only three different English players have won the tournament. In that same span, there have been five English victories, with Nick Faldo accounting for three of them.
Taylor is arguably the greatest English golfer of all time, and his success at the British Open is a true measure of his excellence.
Tom Watson is the greatest American player in the history of the British Open, winning five times in a nine-year span (1975, 1977, 1980, 1982-83).
His battle with the legendary Jack Nicklaus at the 1977 British Open was one of the greatest tournaments in major championship history. Uncharacteristically, it was the Golden Bear that folded under pressure, as Watson made two birdies in the final three holes in the final round to earn a one-stroke victory.
Also in 1977, Watson set the tournament record for the lowest score ever at 268, an achievement that was bested in 1993 by Greg Norman, who shot a 267. Nick Price equaled Watson's mark in 1994.
At age 59, Watson shocked the golfing world by leading the 2009 British Open after three rounds, but he would ultimately lose and not earn his sixth win, which would have tied him for the most ever at the British Open.
Watson is the best American to ever play at the British Open, and we may never see a United States golfer equal his five titles.
James Braid made history in 1910 by becoming the first golfer to win five British Open championships. His five victories came in 1901, 1905, 1906, 1908 and 1910.
From 1900 through 1912, Braid never finished worse than fifth at the tournament, and he also was the runner-up twice.
He also won four British Open championships after the age of 35, which is quite difficult to do now, and even more so early in the 20th century.
He is arguably the greatest Scottish golfer in history and has contributed more to the sport than almost any other player ever.
Harry Vardon is the most successful golfer in the history of the British Open, having won six championships (1896, 1898-99, 1903, 1911 and 1914). He is from the small island of Jersey, which is located in the English Channel between England and France.
Vardon was always a contender at the British Open, and his wins in 1896 and 1914 mark the second longest span between first and last wins for a player in tournament history.
From 1894 through 1908, Vardon never finished worse than ninth, and his career total of 15 top-five finishes is the second most ever.
Vardon's level of success at the British Open will likely never be equaled, and it's hard to imagine anyone breaking or tying his record of six championships. He will forever be remembered as one of the greatest champions the tournament has ever seen.