LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – Royal Lytham & St. Annes has a history of identifying the best player in golf.
Bobby Jones won the first of his three British Open titles in 1926. Seve Ballesteros won twice, the first one in 1979 which proved to be a breakthrough for what became known as the "Big Five" in European golf. David Duval, the only player to replace Tiger Woods at world No. 1 during a seven-year stretch, captured his only major in 2001.
It also holds a pair of distinctions.
For one thing, it is the only links course in the Open rotation in which the sea is not visible from the golf course. Over time, homes have been built around three sides of Royal Lytham & St. Annes, and a railway goes down the right side of the first, second, third, seventh, eighth and ninth holes. Also, it is the only Open where the claret jug has been awarded on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Jones won the Open on Friday, back when so many club pros took part that they had to be back at their regular jobs on the weekend. Ballesteros won on Monday in 1988 when the final round was washed out by rain.
The history is rich, as so many are at golf's oldest championship. Here are the best five at Royal Lytham & St. Annes:
5. GARY PLAYER MAKES IT BIG
The Royal & Ancient decided in 1974 to do away with what had been known as the "small ball" used in the British Open. For the first time, everyone used the American ball at 1.68 inches in diameter. Gary Player, a small man with a big game, was at his best at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
The South African won the Masters in April, but this performance was even stronger. There were only four rounds in the 60s all week, and Player had two of them before the weekend to build a five-shot lead over Peter Oosterhuis.
The only bump in his path was a 75 in the third round, though that didn't last long. Player began the final round with two birdies and an eagle on the opening six holes to restore a big margin, and he closed with a 70 for a four-shot victory and his eighth major title.
Player was the only player to finish under par for the week, and he joined Harry Vardon and J.H. Taylor as the only men to win the Open in three decades. He previously won in 1959 and 1968.
4. SEVE'S LAST STAND
Seve Ballesteros won his third Open — and what turned out to be the last of his five majors — while becoming a peculiar footnote in Open Championship history as the only man to capture the claret jug on three days of the week.
Heavy rain that flooded Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 1988 forced a Monday finish (he previously won the Open on Saturday in 1979 and on Sunday in 1984), though the leaderboard made it worth the wait for thousands of spectators. The star power on the leaderboard was as impressive as the golf that was played. Ballesteros had to hold off Nick Price, Nick Faldo and an early, brief charge by a young American named Fred Couples.
Price and Faldo were tied going into the final round, but Ballesteros quickly made up the two-shot deficit as Faldo faltered. The turning point again came on the 16th hole. Ballesteros drilled a 1-iron into the fairway, and then followed with a 9-iron that settled 3 inches from the cup for a birdie that broke the tie. He closed with a 65, effectively clinching the win with a pitch that stopped a foot from the cup.
3. JACKLIN WINS FOR THE HOME CROWD
It had been 18 years since a player from Great Britain and Ireland had won the Open Championship, when Max Faulkner posed with the claret jug at Royal Portrush, the only Open held in Northern Ireland. To find the last English-born player to win an Open in England, go back to 1938 with Reg Whitcombe at Royal St. George's.
Tony Jacklin became a national sporting hero at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 1969, and sparked a revival among British youth.
Much like the performance of Bob Charles in 1963, Jacklin was spectacular with the shortest club in the bag. He three-putted only once in four days, and he never made worse than a bogey.
Charles was poised for a repeat at Lytham until a 75 in the third round, with Jack taking charge with a 70 to build a two-shot lead. Jacklin closed with a 72 for a two-shot win, and about the only drama at the end was when the stampede of spectators following up to the 18th green caused Jacklin's shoe to come off.
In the gallery that week was a Scottish lad named Sandy Lyle. He became the next British player with his name on the claret jug 16 years later.
2. BOBBY JONES WINS FIRST OPEN
Jones made his second appearance in the British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 1926, and it proved to be the start of greatness that year.
It was the first year the Open was spread over three days, ending on a Friday. Jones was tied after two rounds, only to fall two shots behind Al Watrous.
The final day was difficult even before he teed off. This was the first year the Open charged admission, and when Jones left his player's badge in his hotel room, the man at the gate didn't recognize him and Jones had to pay seven shillings just to get on the golf course. He was two shots behind with five holes remaining and played them with four pars and a birdie to finish on 291 for a two-shot win.
The turning point came on the 17th, where Jones hit a splendid shot from 175 yards off a sandy lie in the rough. The shot is commemorated by a plaque, one of two awarded in Open history. The other belongs to Arnold Palmer at Royal Birkdale in 1961.
Jones returned home and won the U.S. Open at Scioto, making him the first player to win the British Open and U.S. Open in the same calendar year. He also was the first amateur to win the claret jug since Harold Hilton in 1897.
1. THE CAR PARK CHAMPION
Seve Ballesteros not only won his first major championship in 1979 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, he launched the legend of his charismatic game and ability to turn bad shots into birdies over three thrill-seeking days.
He was eight shots behind after the first round before the Spaniard clawed his way back until he was only two adrift of Hale Irwin going into the final round. Ballesteros hit driver nine times in the fourth round and only once found the fairway. No matter. He recovered time after time, no shot more memorable than the 16th. Ballesteros hit his tee shot into an overflow car park. Given relief, his approach finished on the edge of the green, and he holed a 30-footer for birdie.
Some referred to him as the "Car Park Champion," though they knew better. This was a special talent.
Ballesteros closed with a 70 for a three-shot win over Ben Crenshaw and Jack Nicklaus. In one of many lasting images, he shared tears and hugs with his two brothers on the 18th green. He was the first continental European to win the claret jug since Arnaud Massy of France in 1907, and it was the first of majors from the European era of the "Big Five." Bernhard Langer and Sandy Lyle won majors in 1985, Nick Faldo in 1987 and Ian Woosnam in 1991.