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Who Has Had The Best Debut Performances At The Open?

Balls Team
By Balls Team
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The Open remains the most historic tournament in golf and has had its fair share of surprise performances.

The tournament has seen many first-timers win the event, and even more put in excellent rounds without getting their hands on the trophy.

We look back at some of the best debut performances by golfers at The Open.

Paul Dunne (2015)

The Open can throw up the most unlikely stories, winding effortlessly between the romantic to the downright cruel.

At St Andrews in 2015, Paul Dunne looked set to write one of the most unlikely tales in the tournament’s history.

Not since 1930 had an amateur won the Open, when Bobby Jones hoisted aloft the Claret Jug at Hoylake.

Back-to-back opening rounds of 69 left the Greystones man in the top 10, four strokes adrift of a determined Dustin Johnson - who at this point had not yet broken his major duck.


A stunning 66 on Sunday afternoon launched him to a share of the lead alongside Louis Oosthuizen and Jason Day.

The Old Course was braced for a shock. Dunne had managed to produce a bogey-free third round.


But a difficult final day saw the Irishman’s challenge fall away. For only the second time ever in the tournaments 146-year history was play forced to finish on a Monday afternoon.

Four bogeys and a double bogey on the back nine killed his hopes of staying in contention as he finished the day +6 and nine strokes adrift of winner Zach Johnson.

Rory McIlroy (2007)

“I’m glad I got in before he gets one,” said Padraig Harrington accepting the Claret Jug in 2007, a nod to Rory McIlroy’s silver medal.


“He’ll win a few Open Championships in the future, a fine talent.”

Former world number one McIlroy enjoyed a wonderful debut and finished as the lowest amateur to accept the accolade.

The 18-year-old carded a bogey-free opening round 68 to take a share of third alongside Boo Weekley and Ángel Cabrera.


McIlroy couldn’t maintain his blistering start and followed up with a 76, still within the cut line. Not to be discouraged, he finished his tournament with 73-72 and picked up three birdies on his final nine holes.

The Northern Irishman drew plaudits for his performance and many tipped him to be a future star in the making.


“Hopefully it's the shape of things to come,” McIlroy said after his final round.

“I've got a few more Open Championships in me. I think it's a great performance, first major, first Open Championship, and hopefully I can go on to bigger and better things.”

He would go on to lift his first Claret Jug just seven years later, the first of two majors - PGA Championship - won that year.


Justin Rose (1998)


Entering the tournament still as an amateur, 17-year-old Justin Rose holds fond memories of his Open debut.

Considered to be one of the best maiden championships of all time, the Englishman finished tied fourth and to present day it remains his best ever finish at British golf’s showpiece.

A return to Royal Birkdale almost 20 years after his debut and most remember it as something that helped shape the game as it appears today.

Writing after his performance in Southport, Sports Illustrated’s Alan Shipnuck noted: “When Justin Rose [...] holed an impossible wedge shot for birdie on the 72nd hole, the roar shook Birkdale and all of golf.”

An opening round 72 wasn’t the ideal start, but he booked his place in the weekend with a second round 66 which catapulted him within one shot of leader Brian Watts. Rose was in good company, seated alongside Tiger Woods in second place.

His challenge faded with a five-over-par 75, causing him to slip to fifth and three shots behind Watts leading the charge.

But he did save some magic for the final day as he holed an impossible looking 50 yard chip from the rough on the 18th, securing a share of fourth.

He claimed the silver medal for lowest amateur and turned professional the next day.

Tom Watson (1975)

When Tom Watson arrived at Carnoustie in 1975, he already had three top-tens in majors to his name, but he had never competed at The Open.

The American, who would go on to win the tournament five times, would win his first Claret Jug at the first time of asking, aged only 25.

A second round of 67, pushed the American into contention at Carnoustie, but he would not hold the outright lead until the final round.

Starting three shots behind leader Bobby Cole, Watson ended the round as joint-leader (thanks to a final hole birdie) with Australia's Jack Newton and the duo had an 18-hole playoff the following day.

Having played in four previous Opens, Newton went into the playoff as the more experienced player, but it would be Watson who would win by a stroke.

Watson became the third American to win The Open at his first attempt.

Ben Hogan (1953)

19 years after he played in his first major, Ben Hogan finally competed in The Open at Carnoustie in 1953.

With eight major titles already to his name, the American made the trip across the Atlantic, for what would be his only appearance in golf's oldest major.

The Texan had already won the Master and US Open in 1953, before he arrived in Scotland and came to Carnoustie as favourite, despite never competing in the tournament.

The calendar year Grand Slam was an impossible feat at the the time as the opening two days of the USPGA Championship overlapped with The Open. A fact that seems unthinkable in the modern day.

Despite the pressure of winning the opening two majors of the year, Hogan showed why he was the best player in the world by being in the top-ten through the opening two rounds.

At the end of the third round he was joint leader with Argentina's Roberto di Vicenzo. Seven players were within four shots of the duo. At the end of the final round, Hogan's 68 meant he finished four shots ahead of the field.

He was the first player to complete the career Grand Slam with the win in Scotland. He would never play in the tournament again.


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