British Open 2015: Biggest Winners and Losers from St. Andrews
Golf fans certainly are being spoiled this summer.
After a dramatic U.S. Open finish that seemed like it could never be topped, the British Open at St. Andrews provided nonstop drama and a leaderboard on Sunday and Monday that could have gone a million different ways.
That's right: I said Monday.
Seventy-two holes and four days weren't enough for this tournament. This British Open had to be pushed to Monday due to high winds on Saturday, and with three players tied at 15 under at the end of regulation, a four-hole aggregate playoff was launched.
At the end of all of that excitement, it was the understated Zach Johnson who outlasted Marc Leishman and Louis Oosthuizen to earn his first Claret Jug.
But Johnson was far from the only winner. Here are all of the winners and losers from another fantastic major.
Winner: Zach Johnson
Take a bow, Zach Johnson.
The American shot a 66 on the opening and closing day to win the British Open, the second major of his career.
It's been a while since the 2007 Masters champion was in contention for a major, but he brought his great form to St. Andrews and made the most of it.
The 39-year-old shot 15 under for the championship, a score that got him into a three-way playoff. In those four holes, he was the steadiest hand, shooting one under, which was just good enough.
"I'm grateful and I'm humbled. I'm thankful and I'm honored," a teary Johnson told ESPN's Tom Rinaldi immediately after his victory.
Johnson often flies under the radar due to his lack of flash.
"In a sport known for tempered personalities, Johnson has the vivacity of a retirement-home yoga instructor," Joel Beall of Golf Digest wrote.
But Johnson's game is surgical, his chipping and putting is some of the best on the Tour and he has a down-to-earth and sincere demeanor that makes him hard not to root for.
Now, he's the Champion Golfer of the Year.
Loser: Jordan Spieth's Shot at History
Jordan Spieth didn't pull off a history-making victory on Monday, but boy oh boy do you have to give him credit for making a spirited run at the thing.
With all of the pressure of the golfing world on his shoulders, the 21-year-old was in contention throughout the four rounds.
At worst, he was five behind Dustin Johnson after the second round, but he made that up quickly with a 66 in the third round to get within one shot of the leaders going into the final round.
He couldn't quite get there, though—he missed a birdie putt on the 18th by inches that kept him from joining the playoff. He finished in a tie for fourth at 14 under.
"It stings a little bit, but ultimately I thought we gave it a really good run," Spieth told Tom Rinaldi on ESPN after the round.
The American was bidding to become the first player since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in the same year.
But let's make this clear: While Spieth is in the "loser" category due to his failed quest for golf immortality, he did not choke this trophy away. He came up short, which happens. But he still proved that he's a star.
Winner: Louis Oosthuizen
Louis Oosthuizen almost did it again.
Five years ago at St. Andrews, the South African, then only 27, ran away with the Claret Jug, winning his first major by seven strokes over the rest of the field.
This year he was in the last group on the final day but was tied for the lead with two others. He finished the final 18 holes tied with two different players and came up one putt short in the playoff.
Still, with another phenomenal result at a major, it's time to treat Oosthuizen like one of the best golfers in the world right now, because that's exactly what he is.
Here are Oosthuizen's finishes in the last four majors: He tied for 15th at the PGA Championship, tied for 19th at the Masters and tied for second at the U.S. Open and British Open.
That's an incredible run that should certainly give him all the confidence in the world going forward and make him one of the favorites at the PGA Championship.
Loser: Saying Goodbye
It's never easy to say goodbye, but that's what we had to do on Friday as a couple of golf's greatest legends, Tom Watson and Nick Faldo, played their last British Open.
Struggling with a cut on his hand, the 58-year-old Faldo shot an 83 on Thursday but was able to salvage a magical 71 on Friday to walk off with his head held high.
The three-time winner of the British Open, who won in 1990 at St. Andrews, donned his signature sweater for the end of his round and made the famous walk over the Swilcan Bridge one last time.
Then it was five-time Open champion Tom Watson's turn.
The 65-year-old got his second round in just under the wire on Friday, and despite the darkening sky and the sparse crowd that thinned out because of bad weather, he was given a proper sendoff on the 18th hole as well.
"It was a special time," he said, as reported by Mark Tallentire of the Guardian. "Now it's time to get on to the real golf tournament."
Is it too much to ask for the legends to stay around forever?
Winner: Former Champions on the Weekend
But if you're a fan of nostalgia, your weekend smiles didn't end on Friday with the retirements of Nick Faldo and Tom Watson.
We're not just talking about Louis Oosthuizen's remarkable run, either.
All over the leaderboard, there were former Open champions making a charge. Padraig Harrington, who won the Claret Jug in 2007 and 2008, continued his career resurgence with a seven-under tournament. He even had a share of the lead for a bit on Monday.
Phil Mickelson, the 2013 winner, made a charge up the leaderboard on Monday before a tee shot hit the Old Course Hotel balcony and doomed his hopes. He finished at seven under, tied for 20th with Harrington and eight others.
2009 champion Stewart Cink had a few magical moments and also finished at seven under, and Paul Lawrie, the 1999 champion, created some sparks with an opening-round 66.
Even 2001 champ David Duval hung around for the weekend, making his first cut at a major in nearly five years and finishing at four under par, tied for 49th.
It was nice to see so many familiar faces making their presences known at the British Open again. Once a champion, always a champion.
Loser: Tiger Wodds
Unfortunately, Tiger Woods, who won the British Open in 2000, 2005 and 2006, didn't get the memo that this was supposed to be a week of career renaissances and sentimental favorites.
The 14-time major champion's struggles continued at St. Andrews, as he made 10 bogeys and only three birdies to finish 36 holes at seven over par, which wasn't even close to being good enough to make the cut.
As reported by Kevin Van Valkenburg of ESPN, Woods remains as perplexed as ever: "I felt like I was playing well enough to win this event (coming into it). On the very first hole on the first day, I fatted a sand wedge in the water. I fatted my 3-iron off the tee, and then I fatted my 8-iron into the green on 2. It's just one thing after another."
This is the first time the 39-year-old has missed cuts at back-to-back majors in his career.
The legend is a shell of his former self, and as the next generation of greats takes over, it's getting harder and harder to see him making it back to the top of the game.
Winner: Marc Leishman
If someone had said that an Aussie would be one of the biggest stories of the British Open, you'd likely think about Adam Scott or Jason Day winning it all.
Instead, it was their compatriot Marc Leishman who almost stole the entire show.
The 31-year-old, who tied for fifth at the Open last year in only the second top-10 finish at a major in his career, shot a 15-under to be a part of a three-man playoff with Zach Johnson and Louis Oosthuizen.
After a remarkable 64 on Sunday and 66 on Monday, he wasn't able to bring his best golf to the playoff and finished short, but he did show a lot of mettle on the Old Course, particularly given what he's been through lately.
His performance came just a couple of months after he withdrew from the Masters because his wife was placed in a medically induced coma due to acute respiratory distress syndrome and toxic shock syndrome.
Though Audrey Leishman was only given a five percent chance of survival, she is now on her way to a full recovery.
"It really put things into perspective," Leishman said, as reported by Luke Kerr-Dineen of For The Win. "I thought I had a pretty good outlook on life before...but things like this happen to people every day, and we were just lucky we survived it."
Loser: Adam Scott's Back Nine on Monday
Over the past few years, Adam Scott has played some of his best golf at the British Open but hasn't been able to walk away with the trophy.
He was the runner-up in 2012, tied for third in 2013 and tied for fifth last year.
This year he was lurking around the top of the leaderboard for most of the tournament, and it looked like with Steve Williams on his bag, he might be poised to hoist the trophy.
Then he hit the back nine on Monday.
He bogeyed the 14th, 15th and 17th. Then he double-bogeyed the 18th. They weren't even good misses—he botched putts like this one. It was, all in all, a complete disaster.
The 35-year-old finished the British Open at 10 under par, tied for 10th. The Claret Jug remains just out of his grasp.
Who rules the world?
Well, that's still up in the air, but amateurs certainly did rule at St. Andrews this week.
You might have heard about Paul Dunne, the 22-year-old recent UAB grad who had a share of the lead heading into the final round of play. His story is pretty incredible.
Dunne struggled on Monday—an understandable development—and ended up finishing at six under par and tied for 30th, but his 54-hole feat will be in the history books.
The Silver Medal for the top amateur went to American Jordan Niebrugge, who shot two under par on Monday to finish at 11 under, tied for sixth.
Ollie Schniederjans, another American amateur, impressed with a nine-under and a tie for 12th, as did Irish amateur Ashley Chesters.
Three amateurs in the top 15 and four in the top 30? That's just ridiculous. The future of golf is bright.
Loser: Dustin Johnson
Through three days and two rounds, this looked like it was Dustin Johnson's golf tournament to lose.
Then, as he's wont to do when the pressure builds at major tournaments, Johnson lost it.
As the rest of the field made birdie after birdie, Johnson went in the opposite direction.
After shooting five birdies and an eagle in the first round and five birdies and two bogeys in the second round to sit at 10 under par after 36 holes, the bottom fell out.
Johson's third round included four bogeys and only one birdie, and in his final round he shot four birdies, five bogeys and a double bogey.
The 31-year-old American, who is fresh off his choke at the U.S. Open, ended the tournament in a tie for 49th at four under par. Not the fairytale ending he was hoping for.
You know what are fun to watch? Birdies.
They make the pros happy, pump up the crowd and make the leaderboard much more exciting to watch.
So thank you, British Open, for providing an opportunity for the best golfers in the world to actually play golf well.
Overall, there were 1,696 birdies at the British Open, over 400 more than at the U.S. Open last month. That's a significant difference, and it kept the energy of the tournament alive, even through the weather delays.
This made the five days of golf-watching so much more enjoyable and certainly heightened the drama, as everyone was crowded together atop the leaderboard on Monday.
Viewers and golfers alike knew pars weren't enough and bogeys were death sentences—birdies were needed, early and often.
Hopefully, the USGA was watching and taking note.
Loser: The Monday Finish
I understand that it can't be easy to make decisions that affect hundreds of players and countless dollars when you're facing something as unpredictable as Mother Nature.
However, there were a lot of questionable decisions from the R&A. Play was delayed on Friday for a bit due to bad weather, and as the sky darkened and it became clear that not all rounds would be finished, the club just let every individual player stop when he was comfortable.
Then, early on Saturday morning, players were released onto the Old Course to complete the second round despite atrocious winds. Golfers were only on the course for 30 minutes before waiting 10 hours to complete the round.
But the worst move was the R&A's refusal to adjust the schedule so that a Sunday finish was possible.
The golf was so great on Sunday that playing 36 holes would have added so much to the drama and excitement.
With so many hours of light available in Scotland, it seems unfathomable that there wasn't a way to get 36 holes in and still make the conditions fair for everyone.
At the very least, it was worth a try to put the groups into threes or to start the third and fourth rounds from two tees. While the order of holes does matter in links golf, that would have given each golfer a chance to start from both locations, thus evening things out.
The exciting golf continued on Monday, but a Monday finish is a letdown, plain and simple.