The Open's Most Popular Winners

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The Open's Most Popular Winners

July 20, 2011

Photo By: AP Photo

Photo By: AP Photo

Photo By: AP Photo

Photo By: AP Photo

Photo By: AP Photo

Seve Ballesteros, 1984Ballesteros always referred to the holing of his 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th at St. Andrews as "El Momento," and it was indeed a magical moment. Battling down the stretch with Tom Watson, who was also the Spaniard's chief rival for the unofficial title of Best Player in the World, Ballesteros was at his best, hitting a pure 6-iron onto the 17th green at the Road Hole for a crucial par. Tied for the lead one hole behind, Watson hit his approach onto the road. As Watson was making bogey, Ballesteros stroked his final putt, the ball dying at the cup. "I think with my interior energy, I put it inside myself," Ballesteros said last year. "I think so." When it dropped, the intimately massed throng of people around the Home Hole exploded, and Seve was king.

Photo By: AP Photo

Jack Nicklaus, 1978At 38, Nicklaus hadn't won a major in three years and appeared on the downside, but the ultimate stage of the Old Course and its spectators -- "my favorite place on earth to play golf" -- always inspired him. Nicklaus won by two with what he called "the finest four days of tee-to-green golf I had produced in a major championship, even including the 1965 Masters." With the victory, Nicklaus became the first golfer to capture all four of the Grand Slam event three times (an accomplishment since matched by Tiger Woods). But the greatest payoff was the emotional reception that engulfed him as he walked up the 18th hole. "I had never received such a huge ovation," he said in 1997, "and haven't since, and don't expect I ever will again."

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Ben Hogan, 1953What made Hogan's four stroke victory at Carnoustie so epic was that in his first and only attempt to win the British Open, his performance was quintessential. The Scottish fans -- who massed around Hogan even as he went through the 36-hole qualifying -- instantly connected to the intense Texan's pursuit of golfing excellence, and watched with awe as he coldly took apart perhaps the hardest links on the championship rota. Hogan finished with aplomb, smashing his drive on the then-par 5 18th, carrying the Barry Burn with a 4-wood, and two putting for a closing birdie. It culminated Hogan's unprecedented Triple Crown -- victories in the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in the same calendar year, still a singular feat. The Hogan Mystique never gained more meat than it did at Carnoustie.

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Roberto De Vicenzo, 1967The 44-year-old Argentine star had long been a crowd favorite, and had also come close to winning the championship several times. With his big frame and thick arms and hands, De Vicenzo was a massive hitter who favored a draw, but in the months before Hoylake, he'd worked hard to cultivate a fade. Playing the most controlled golf of his life, De Vicenzo fed off the fans in the fourth round as he fought off Gary Player and Nicklaus. "The English, they liked me," he said. "They wanted me against the Americans. It gave me power." On the par-5 71st hole, De Vicenzo hit a 3-wood 240 yards onto a green set tight against out of bounds. The "best shot of my life" made his march up the final hole triumphal.

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Tiger Woods, 2000Less than a month removed from his 15-stroke U.S. Open victory at Pebble Beach, Woods came to St. Andrews and actually put on an even better performance tee to green. He shot 19-under 269 to set the championship record for most under par total, and won by eight strokes, the largest margin since 1913. He made only three bogeys all week, and was never in one of the Old Course's 128 bunkers. The claret jug also gave Woods the career Grand Slam at age 24. Throughout the week, the town of St. Andrews was in the grip of Tigermania, swept away by Woods' laser focus and sheer brilliance. The record crowds were never more evident than on the 72nd hole, as cheering fans stood on rooftops and peered out from windowsills.

Photo By: AP Photo

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