Swinging Surprises: Remembering the Top 5 Open Championship Upsets that Shook the World of Golf

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Long odds at the Open Championship does not mean you have no chance. These five winners all won at big numbers.
Posted on
January 25, 2024
Andy Newmarch in , ,
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

With the 2024 golf season already in full swing, golf lovers and punters alike await the unpredictable twists and turns that define this beautiful game. As the greens witness both seasoned pros and rising stars vying for supremacy, we pause to reflect on the unexpected triumphs that have left indelible marks on the sport. These top five upsets not only defied the betting odds but also sent shockwaves through golfing communities.

Golf fanatics worldwide are gearing up for an exhilarating 2024, especially with the advent of the LIV Golf competition promising a year of unprecedented excitement on the greens, where underdogs like those on this list rise to greatness. As the golfing landscape undergoes a transformative shift, a valuable resource for punters to navigate this thrilling season is Wincomparator. The platform provides a comprehensive and updated list of bookies for golf for 2024, equipping users with the latest insights into the competitive betting market. With LIV Golf adding a new layer of intensity to the sport, golf enthusiasts can look forward to using Wincomparator for all their prediction and live coverage needs while also enjoying exclusive promotions to some of the world’s leading bookmakers.


5. Louis Oosthuizen - St. Andrews (2010)

In a stunning display at the 2010 Open Championship, Louis Oosthuizen took the bookmakers to the cleaners by securing one of the most remarkable victories in the tournament's history. Entering the competition with betting odds of 25/1 to clinch the coveted title, the South African arrived with a track record that included just one successful cut in eight major championship appearances. Notably, Oosthuizen had notched his first European Tour victory merely four months prior to the prestigious event.


The tournament unfolded with Oosthuizen firing from the outset, delivering an impressive opening round of 65, and built on that in favourable morning conditions on Friday, carding a stellar 67. Heading into the final day with a commanding four-shot lead, scepticism loomed as notable contenders such as Paul Casey, Henrik Stenson, and Lee Westwood trailed closely. Despite expectations of a potential collapse, Oosthuizen displayed unwavering dominance on the final day, ultimately securing victory with an astounding seven-shot margin to become only the fourth South African to lift the Claret Jug, following Bobby Locke, Gary Player and Ernie Els.


4. John Daly - St Andrews (1995)

Emerging as the ninth alternate into the competitive field at Crooked Stick for the PGA Championship in 1991  John Daly etched his name into the annals of golf history with a stunning victory, accentuated by his prodigious drives. The man affectionately dubbed ‘Wild Thing’ not only claimed an improbable triumph but went on to add another major accolade four years later at the prestigious Open Championship hosted at St. Andrews. Widely dismissed as a one-time stroke of luck, especially given his unconventional 'grip it and rip it' style, critics doubted Daly's suitability for the challenges posed by links courses.


However, Daly silenced sceptics in 1995 with a triumphant performance at the hallowed grounds of St. Andrews. Though he faced a setback with a 73 in the third round, a resolute final-round score of 71 initially seemed enough for victory, but Italy’s Costantino Rocca wasn’t having it and forced a playoff with an astonishing 65-foot putt on the last hole through the valley of sin. Undeterred, Daly held his nerve during the playoff, ultimately triumphing over Rocca by a four-shot margin across the four-hole showdown. The win breathed new life into Daly's career, which had been marred by personal challenges.


3. Todd Hamilton - Royal Troon (2004)

In 1987, Todd Hamilton began his professional golf journey, but he faced challenges that led him to the Japan Golf Tour rather than the coveted PGA Tour. It wasn't until 2003, after numerous attempts, that Hamilton secured his first PGA card, making the prospect of a major victory seem improbable. Entering the PGA TOUR arena at the age of 38 and having participated in only three Opens (in 1992, 1996, and 2003) with two missed cuts, Hamilton faced an uphill battle in the 2004 championship. Nevertheless, in a surprising turn of events at Royal Troon, Hamilton clinched a remarkable victory in a four-hole playoff against the legendary Ernie Els.

Royal Troon, 18th green - image from Andy Newmarch

Despite the odds, Hamilton shone with consecutive 67s on Friday and Saturday, ascending to the top of the leaderboard at -8, amidst notable contenders like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Els. The tournament witnessed dramatic swings in momentum, with Hamilton leading by two strokes with two holes to play, only to bogey the final hole. This set the stage for a tense playoff against Els, who had a chance to win on the final hole but fell short with a missed putt. The playoff unfolded, and a critical bogey on the third hole ultimately made Hamilton the undisputed Champion Golfer of the Year for 2004 at long, long odds.


2. Ben Curtis - Royal St. George’s (2003)

Let’s begin this one by pointing out why Ben Curtis' 2003 Royal St George's victory was a golfing masterclass. The American entered the tournament with staggering 300/1 odds to win, a testament to his underdog status and was ranked as low as 396th in the world heading into the Major. Curtis defied the odds and positioned himself as a contender, trailing Thomas Bjorn by two shots going into the final round. Despite a compelling run of six birdies in the first 11 holes, Curtis seemed to have shot himself in the foot with four untimely bogeys on 12, 14, 15, and 17.


As the tournament unfolded on Sunday, Denmark's Thomas Bjorn held a one-shot lead, with formidable names like Davis Love III, Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods, and Sergio Garcia (who entered with 6/1 odds for a Top-10 finish) all within striking distance, trailing by just two shots. Bjorn appeared poised for victory, maintaining a three-shot lead with four holes to play. However, a critical error on the 15th hole, coupled with finding the bunker on 16 and taking three shots to escape, proved costly. Another bogey on 17 followed, and in a stunning turn of events, Ben Curtis emerged as a major champion in his very first attempt.


1. Paul Lawrie - Carnoustie (1999)

There is no speaking of golfing upsets without mentioning Scottish golfing icon Paul Stewart Lawrie OBE. The 1999 Open Championship etched its place in golfing history with one of the most unforgettable endings witnessed at a major tournament. While the spotlight initially focused on the dramatic collapse of little-known Frenchman Jean van de Velde on the 18th hole that Sunday, it was the unassuming world No. 159, Paul Lawrie, who orchestrated a stunning comeback from 10 shots behind to secure the coveted title in a riveting play-off.

Entering the tournament at huge odds, Lawrie's modest goal was likely to merely make the weekend, a feat he had not accomplished in four years. Despite starting Sunday at 10-over-par and trailing the leader by 10 shots, the man from Aberdeen wasn't even in the top 10 as the final round commenced. However, Lawrie's fortunes changed dramatically with a remarkable final-round score of 67. Meanwhile, Jean van de Velde's shocking triple-bogey on the 72nd hole ramped up the action, resulting in a three-way play-off that included Justin Leonard. In an almost unbelievable climax, Lawrie secured the title with a decisive birdie on the final play-off hole. Despite his initial lack of prominence and the overshadowing drama of van de Velde's misfortune, Lawrie emerged as the unexpected hero of a tournament that will forever be remembered for its intensity and the unforeseen twists that make us love this game.

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About Andy Newmarch

Being one of the original owners of the ‘Top 100 Golf Courses’ website enabled Andy to travel far and wide playing and rating courses, with the numbers somewhere around 1200 courses in 40 countries. Although now away from the day-to-day grind of course ranking, having a keen eye on course developments is still high on the agenda. Currently hanging on to a handicap index of 9.9 he is probably as competitive on the course than ever but more often than not will compliment this by relaxing at the 19th hole to make up for the hard work!

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