If history holds, Carnoustie will mellow the field’s performance in this week’s British Open golf championship.
The winners of the seven previous Opens contested at Carnoustie compiled an average Z Score of -2.03. That is significantly less dominant than the average Z Scores of any of the four major championships played in recent years.
Winners of the four Opens contested since 2014 have produced average Z Scores of -2.90, nearly a full point more dominant than Carnoustie winners. In essence, that means that Carnoustie produces more competitive results than other Open championship courses.
The same disparity holds for other recent championship venues. The winners of Masters championships played since 2014 have averaged Z Scores of -2.37; at the U.S. Open the average has been -2.35; at the PGA it has been -2.44. Of the 18 major championship winners since the start of the 2014 season, only four produced Z Scores that were less dominant than the most dominant Z Score ever produced by a Carnoustie champion.
That suggests the championship at Carnoustie this week is likely to be decided by one or two strokes at most, possibly in a playoff, and heading a highly competitive field. All three of the most recent Opens – going back to Tom Watson’s 1975 victory over Jack Watson – went to playoffs. Only one of the seven has been decided by more than two strokes, that being Ben Hogan’s four-stroke victory in 1953.
Of the seven previous Open championships, the statistically most dominant performance was by Henry Cotton in 1937. Cotton won by two strokes, producing -2.29 Z Score, during some of the worst weather ever to plague a major golf tournament. The competition was marred by vicious wind and rainstorms that at times dumped as much as three inches of standing water on the putting surfaces. The competition committee allowed players that year to move their balls in order to avoid standing water, and some competitors were reported to have utilized that rule as frequently as a dozen times. In those conditions, The Observer’s correspondent described Cotton’s final round 71 as one of the greatest final rounds in golf history. “To have such a score in a storm of wind and rain — and on a course measuring 7,200 yards — is an achievement defying comparison.” Indeed, the average score of the nearly 50 players who completed 72 holes was 290, 16 strokes higher than Cotton’s.
Here are the scores of the seven champions crowned at Carnoustie:
Year Champion Score Z Score
1931 Tommy Armour 296 -1.91
1937 Henry Cotton 290 -2.29
1953 Ben Hogan 282 -2.15
1968 Gary Player 289 -2.09
1975 Tom Watson 279 -2.06
1999 Paul Lawrie 290 -1.92
2007 Padraig Harrington 277 -1.77