Ranking the Biggest Comebacks in British Open History

Tyler Donohue@@TDsTakeNational Recruiting AnalystJuly 20, 2013

Ranking the Biggest Comebacks in British Open History

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    History does a great job of reminding us that no lead in golf is safe until the final scorecard is signed. The Open Championship falls in line with that lesson.

    Competitors at the British Open have strung together significant comebacks during the tournament's history. Though most have fallen short of the Claret Jug, some resulted in a stunning victor who emerged from the edge of obscurity.

    Here's a look at some of the most memorable comebacks to be mounted in British Open competition.

5. Greg Norman, 1989

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    Greg Norman ultimately fell short of a title at the 1989 Open Championship, but his late charge at Royal Troon deserves recognition. "The Shark" coughed up a chance to win the tournament with follies on the fourth playoff hole, relinquishing honors to Mark Calcavecchia, but the fact that he reached that point is a testament to his talent.

    Norman trailed by seven strokes when he teed off on the first hole of Round 4. A dazzling display of accuracy and execution allowed him to post a remarkable 64 on Sunday.

    That score tied the lowest round in British Open history and gave Norman an opportunity to compete against Calcavecchia and Wayne Grady in bonus action.

4. Ernie Els, 2012

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    When Ernie Els wrapped up his first 36 holes at Royal Lytham, few viewed the veteran as a legitimate title contender. The 42-year-old, more than two years removed from his last PGA tournament victory, was seven shots behind leader Brandt Snedeker.

    Even as he buried a birdie to finish his Sunday at two-under and wrap up the tournament at seven-under, Els still appeared destined to fall short of his second British Open title. As is the case in so many golf comebacks, one man's success hinged on another man's failure.

    After Els walked off the course, front-runner Adam Scott concluded a disastrous final stretch with bogeys on the 17th and 18th holes. In the blink of an eye, Els went from nervously pacing the practice green to being summoned to the winner's circle.

    Scott dropped back from 10-under to six-under on the final four holes of the tournament, giving Els an outright victory in regulation. He became just the second player since 1995 to win a major championship despite trailing by at least seven shots through 36 holes.

3. Nick Faldo, 1992

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    Nick Faldo recovered from a collapse by completing the 1992 Open Championship with a comeback victory. He led the tournament by three strokes entering Sunday but squandered opportunities to put away the competition and lost his lead all together by the final stretch.

    John Cook charged up the leaderboard to take a two-stroke lead over Faldo with four holes to play. Rattled and reeling, the Englishman regained his composure at the right time and handled the pressure much better than Cook.

    Faldo netted birdies on two of the final four holes. He cemented his third tournament victory by shooting for par on 18, becoming the first British three-time winner in nearly half a century.

2. Paul Lawrie, 1999

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    The 1999 Open Championship is remembered for the stunning fall from grace for Jean Van de Velde, who surrendered a three-shot lead on the final hole. The collapse resulted in a three-man playoff, which was won by Paul Lawrie at Carnoustie.

    Amazingly, Lawrie awoke Sunday staring up at first place from a 10-stroke hole. He shaved that deficit down as the day progressed, and Van de Velde's debacle on No. 18 opened the door for Lawrie. 

    He sealed his role in British Open lore with a birdie on the final hole of a four-hole playoff, edging Van de Velde and Justin Leonard. Lawrie raised the Claret Jug without ever sharing a piece of the lead through 72 holes of regulation action.

    He remains the only man to overcome a 10-stroke deficit in the final round of major championship.

1. George Duncan, 1920

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    George Duncan opened the 1920 Open Championship with a pair of clunkers. The Scottish standout posted an 80 in both Round 1 and Round 2, falling back at Royal Cinque Ports in the first post-World War I British Open.

    Bitter years of battles halted the tournament between 1915-1919. When Duncan and the field teed off, it signified a slight return to normalcy, although the golf action was anything but standard.

    He trailed by 13 shots through 36 holes but stunningly erased the deficit.

    Duncan delivered during the tournament's second half. He scored a 71 in Round 3 and followed that with a 72 in the final round. 

    The result was a two-stroke victory over fellow countryman Sandy Herd. It was the only major title of Duncan's career.