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St. Andrews celebrates 150th anniversary of British Open

By Paul Gittings, CNN
  • World No. 1 Tiger Woods seeking his third successive victory at St. Andrews
  • The famous Scottish links course will hold the British Open for the 28th time this week
  • It marks the 150th anniversary of the only major played outside of the United States
  • Legend Jack Nicklaus says a golfer must win at St. Andrews to be remembered

(CNN) -- It is surely fitting that the home of golf, St. Andrews in Scotland, is hosting the 150th British Open, which started on Thursday on the famous links.

It will be the 28th time that golf's first major tournament will be staged on the Old Course, also a record.

And to continue that record breaking theme, Tiger Woods will make golfing history if he can make it three straight wins there.

Tiger begins quest for St. Andrews hat-trick

Golf has come a long way since St. Andrews first staged the British Open in 1873, the tournament being won by local caddy Tom Kidd.

The previous 12 British Opens had been held at Prestwick -- the tournament was not held in 1871 -- with "Old" Tom Morris and his son sharing eight of the titles.

Kidd claimed the grand total of £11 in prize money, while the winner come Sunday will pocket £850,000 ($1.29 million).

If a golfer is to be remembered he must win at St. Andrews
--Jack Nicklaus
  • British Open
  • St Andrews
  • The Majors
  • Tiger Woods
  • Golf

In the intervening years, the list of champions has read like a roll call of golf legends, including five-time winner James Braid, Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Peter Thomson, Bobby Locke, Jack Nicklaus, Severiano Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Woods, who holds the tournament record.

According to Nicklaus, the all-time leading majors winner with 18, "if a golfer is to be remembered he must win at St. Andrews."

Arnold Palmer, who did so much to restore the status of the British Open in the 1960s, missed out by a stroke to Kel Nagle in the centenary tournament at the start of that decade but won the next two.

Another all-time great, Tom Watson, finished tied second in 1984 to Ballesteros, narrowly failing to win a record-tying sixth British Open as he almost holed his second shot to the 18th.

It is tribute to his talents, that even at the age of 60, Watson is still considered a contender for the title, even more so after his remarkable second place last year at Turnberry.

Two of the more colorful winners were also Americans. In 1964, "Champagne" Tony Lema held off Nicklaus on his first appearance in the British Open, but tragically died in a plane crash two years later.

1995 was the year that "Wild Thing" John Daly became a multiple major winner, adding the British Open to his PGA Championship crown, beating Italian Costantino Rocca in a playoff.

To mark the 150th anniversary, a special four-hole exhibition tournament for surviving British Open champions was supposed to held on Wednesday, but bad weather meant it was called off.

Nicklaus had declined to appear, preferring to leave his emotional 2005 farewell as his final appearance at St. Andrews, retiring from competitive golf that year.

Ballesteros, who suffered a brain tumor in 2008, was unable to attend the special 150th anniversary dinner for surviving British Open champions held at St. Andrews, instead sending an emotional video message to his fellow greats.

Swashbuckling victory

But the Spaniard's swashbuckling victory in 1984 will be remembered by golf fans as one of the iconic moments in the history of golf's oldest major.

To have achieved it at St. Andrews, home of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club (R&A), is, as Nicklaus acknowledges, the pinnacle of golfing achievement.

According to its official website, the R&A was founded on May 14, 1754 and since the late 19th century has been regarded as the governing body of world golf, setting the rules of the game, as well as running the British Open.

The earliest records have a form of golf being played on the ancient links dating back to the 12th century and its popularity grew rapidly over the centuries as the game evolved.

In 1752, two years before the formation of the R&A, the Society of St. Andrews Golfers, who were the custodians of the Old Course, took the decision to reduce the number of holes from 22 to 18.

This created the format for the standard course which exists today.

The 18 holes that make up the Old Course at St. Andrews all offer a significant test, particularly if the wind blows, but one in particular stands out.

The 17th, or Road Hole, is considered one of the greatest tests in golf and many a British Open has been decided on the par-four.

Players have to negotiate the outbuildings of the adjacent Old Course Hotel with their drives, but it is the second shot which is the real test, with errant shots to the narrow green scuttling off onto the road behind or into the massive bunker at the front.

For this year's 150th anniversary championships, the organizers extended its length by 40 yards from 455 to 495 yards, testing the nerve of the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson as they bid for major glory.