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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 July, 2004, 11:29 GMT 12:29 UK
Legends of the Open
BBC Sport profiles the players with the best records in golf's oldest tournament.

Since the first Open in 1860, when Willie Park of Musselburgh beat Tom Morris to win the first of his four titles, no less than 10 players have won it four times or more.

But only five men - Harry Vardon, J H Taylor, James Braid, Peter Thomson and Tom Watson - have won it five times or more.

Starting with Vardon, the only player with six Open titles to his name, we profile the famous five.

HARRY VARDON

Nationality: British
Born: 9 May 1870. Died 1937.
Open wins (6): 1896 - Muirfield; 1898 - Prestwick;
1899 - St George's; 1903 - Prestwick; 1911 - St George's;
1914 - Prestwick.

Harry Vardon, part of the Great Triumvirate which also included James Braid and J H Taylor, was the first truly great golfer and remains the greatest Open winner of them all.

As well as his record six Open victories, Vardon finished either first or second in over half of the 52 events he entered in his prime, including 17 wins in 22 tournaments.

Harry Vardon
In 1898, Vardon was the first man to win with four rounds in the 70s
The Jersey-born golfer burst onto the scene winning his first Open in 1896 when he denied Taylor a hat-trick of championships following a 36-hole play-off.

That victory came straight after victory in an exhibition match against Taylor.

The members at Ganton, where Vardon was the professional, were so sure he could beat the Open champion that they raised money to stage the match - their man repaid their faith and duly won eight and six.

Three more Open titles followed but just when it seemed that Vardon could achieve anything in the game he was struck by tuberculosis. He never completely recovered from the disease but still managed to win two more titles in 1911 and 1914.

All three members of the Great Triumvirate went into the 1914 Open at Prestwick level on five wins each.

It was to be the last Open before the Great War and Vardon held off Taylor's challenge to record his third win at the course but more significantly his sixth overall - a record that stands to this day.

Vardon's name is emblazoned on two prestigious trophies - for the leading stroke average on the US Tour and the winner of the Order of Merit on the European Tour.

And he is immortalised by the overlapping grip known as the Vardon grip.

J H TAYLOR

Nationality: British
Born: 19 March 1871. Died 1963.
Open wins (5): 1894 - St. George's; 1895 - St Andrews;
1900 - St Andrews; 1909 - Royal Cinque Ports;
1913 - Hoylake.

John Henry Taylor was the first of the Great Triumvirate of Vardon, Braid and Taylor to win The Open.

From his victory in 1894 the three men were to win 16 of the 21 Opens contested until the Great War.

J H Taylor
In his youth, Taylor worked at Westward Ho links
Taylor's first win, by five strokes, came in only his second appearance at the tournament.

It was also the first Open to be held south of the border and his victory heralded the end of Scottish domination.

Taylor had an inelegant, but effective, swing which proved particularly successful on blustery links courses where he kept the ball under the wind.

He made a successful defence of his Open title in 1895 at St Andrews but was denied a hat-trick the following year by Vardon in a 36-hole play-off.

Four years later, back at the home of golf, Taylor gained revenge by beating Vardon into second, and Braid into third.

Taylor, who was the professional at Royal Mid-Surrey for 47 years, won again in 1909 and 1913, and also came second on six occasions.

JAMES BRAID

Nationality: British
Born: 6 February 1870. Died 1950.
Open wins (5): 1901 - Muirfield; 1905 - St Andrews;
1906 - Muirfield; 1908 - Prestwick; 1910 - St Andrews.

The other members of the Great Triumvirate may be more famous, and in Vardon's case have won more titles, but James Braid secured his victories in a shorter timespan.

Braid, arguably the greatest golfer to hail from Scotland, won his five Open championships between 1901 and 1910.

James Braid
Braid celebrated his 78th birthday with a round of 74
He moved down to England and became a professional in Romford, before moving to Walton Heath, where he settled.

Braid won his first title by three strokes despite shooting a final-round 80 to finish ahead of Vardon and Taylor, while at St Andrews he defeated Taylor by five strokes.

Braid's greatest margin of victory occured in 1908 when he finished eight shots ahead of second-placed Tom Ball.

The Scotsman was also a keen golf course architect helping design Carnoustie and the King's and Queen's courses at Gleneagles.

PETER THOMSON

Nationality: Australian
Born: 23 August 1929
Open wins (5): 1954 - Royal Birkdale; 1955 - St Andrews;
1956 - Hoylake; 1958 - Royal Lytham; 1965 - Royal Birkdale.

Peter Thomson won five Open titles in a nine-year spell, during an era where both he and Bobby Locke dominated the event.

And the Australian's hat-trick of Open titles in the 1950s was a unique achievement in the 20th century.

Peter Thomson
Thomson believed calmness was essential
Recording a win at all must have been a relief after Thomson had endured the disappointment of finishing second two years running prior to his Royal Birkdale win.

That year, Thomson, with a brand new selection of irons but without a driver, showed a maturity beyond his 24 years, to win the tournament.

He went round in 71 - one shot ahead of Syd Scott, Dai Rees and pre-tournament favourite Locke.

Thomson enjoyed a two-shot victory in 1955, and a three-shot final advantage in 1956.

The following year, Thomson lost to Locke by the same margin before getting his hands on the Claret Jug again in 1958 when he required a 36-hole play-off to see off Dave Thomas.

Throughout his success at the Open, Thomson had to live with suggestions that he had never beaten the best in the world.

But after the Americans started to contest the championship in the 1960s, Thomson enjoyed his greatest victory in 1965 - 11 years after his first.

Back at Royal Birkdale, where he had enjoyed that first win, Thomson beat a field packed with quality for his fifth and final title.

TOM WATSON

Nationality: American
Born: 4 September 1949
Open wins (5): 1975 - Carnoustie; 1977 - Turnberry;
1980 - Muirfield; 1982 - Royal Troon; 1983 - Royal Birkdale.

The battles between American greats Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson were legendary.

Although most experts would point out that Nicklaus was the more successful player worldwide, he could not hold a candle to Watson when it came to the Open.

Tom Watson
Watson beat off the best names in golf for his wins
His first success came at Carnoustie in 1975, in a tournament where he was not seen as a likely contender for the title.

Watson was deemed a "choker", a player who had thrown away leads in the previous two US Opens.

The "Kansas Kid" was always in contention, but never got amongst the leaders until the final round when he managed to catch up with Jack Newton to take the championship to a play-off.

Watson took the title on the 18th extra hole, hitting his iron shot into the heart of the green, while Newton faltered, and holing for par and his first taste of major glory.

The famous "Duel in the Sun" followed in 1977 at Turnberry, when Watson beat Nicklaus by a single stroke.

Watson later reeled off three more wins in the space of four years, to stamp his name firmly in the Open Hall of Fame.





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