The Open Championship: Can Shane Lowry reproduce his Royal Portrush magic?

A look at how past winners have fared when defending the Claret Jug and whether 2019 hero Shane Lowry is a good bet to challenge again.

Ways to back Lowry in the 2021 Open Championship

8/5 for top 20 finish

There's always a sense of 'follow that!' when an Open champion returns to try and win the tournament again 12 months later.

Shane Lowry didn't even get the chance last year however after the renewal at Royal St George's was postponed due to COVID 19.

It means, by default, the Claret Jug has spent two years in the Lowry household - the first player to keep it for that long since fellow Irishman Padraig Harrington won back-to-back Opens in 2007 and 2008.

Unlike The Masters and the vast majority of regular European Tour/PGA Tour events, Open champions have to defend on different courses.

Some themes remain the same but certain venues on the Open rota - St Andrews and Carnoustie for example - have obvious differences.

Add in the unpredictable Open weather and it seems an extremely tall order to win it again.

So, as Lowry finally gets to defend, Planet Sport looks at how previous winners this century have fared when being announced onto that first tee as the current champion.

Open winners and where they finished 12 months later

2018 Francesco Molinari (Carnoustie) - The Italian started slowly with a 74 but shot a closing 66 to finish T11 at Royal Portrush.

2017 Jordan Spieth (Royal Birkdale) - Spieth didn't race out of the blocks at Carnoustie but shared the 54-hole lead after sparkling middle rounds of 67-65. A Sunday 76 dropped him to T9.

2016 Henrik Stenson (Royal Troon) - Like Spieth, Stenson fired a 65 on Moving Day to start Sunday at Royal Birkdale in T7 but a final-round 70 meant he finished T11.

2015 Zach Johnson (St Andrews) - Surprise Old Course winner Johnson was in the top five after 18 and 36 holes at Royal Liverpool a year later before fading to T12.

2014 Rory McIlroy (Royal Liverpool) - Rory would have been a big favourite to defend at St Andrews - a course he loves - but an ankle injury sustained during a football kick-about meant he had to withdraw.

2013 Phil Mickelson (Muirfield) - The left-hander never really got in a blow at Royal Liverpool but moved up to T23 after his best round of the week, a Sunday 68.

2012 Ernie Els (Royal Lytham) - Three 74s and a third-round 70 in tough conditions at Muirfield weren't enough to put him on the leaderboard but sufficient to finish a decent T26.

2011 Darren Clarke (Royal St George's) - The Northern Irishman couldn't find a spark at Lytham and rounds of 76-71 meant he missed the cut.

2010 Louis Oosthuizen (St Andrews) - Before Lowry, Oosthuizen was the last player to defend the Claret Jug at Royal St George's. It didn't go well: the South African shot 74-77 on the weekend to slide to T54.

2009 Stewart Cink (Turnberry) - The man who beat Tom Watson in a playoff couldn't hit the same heights at St Andrews, never challenging and finishing T48.

2008 Padraig Harrington (Royal Birkdale) - Harrington's bid for a hat-trick started well enough with a 69 at Turnberry but he fell away to finish T65.

2007 Padraig Harrington (Carnoustie) - Despite a wrist injury that fuelled talk of a withdrawal, Harrington overcame a 74 in round one at Royal Birkdale to win for the second year running.

2006 Tiger Woods (Royal Liverpool) - A Friday 74 ultimately denied Woods winning three in a row as he posted T12 at Carnoustie.

2005 Tiger Woods (St Andrews) - Woods took the lead with a second-round 65 and closed out his second straight win to take victory at Royal Liverpool.

2004 Todd Hamilton (Royal Troon) - Confirming that his 2004 playoff win over Ernie Els at Troon came from left-field, Hamilton missed the cut at St Andrews in 2005 after twin 74s.

2003 Ben Curtis (Royal St George's) - 500/1 shock Royal St George's winner Curtis did later make the top 10 in both 2007 and 2008. But his defence at Troon resulted in a missed cut.

2002 Ernie Els (Muirfield) - Third (2001) and second (2000) in the two years before his play-off win at Muirfield, Els opened with a 78 at Royal St George's but recovered to post T18.

2001 David Duval (Royal Lytham) - The American's bid to defend never quite kicked into gear as scores of 72-71-70-70 at Muirfield gave him T22.

2000 Tiger Woods (St Andrews) - 12 months on from his win at the Old Course, Tiger was T9 at halfway when defending at Lytham before ending T25.

Summary

Since the turn of the century Woods and Harrington have both managed successful defences so there is precedent there for Lowry.

Recent winners have also fared pretty well, with the last four all making the top 12. In fact, apart from McIlroy who didn't defend due to injury, every winner since Clarke in 2011 has made the top 26 next time.

The full list of finishing positions for defenders since 2000:

25, 22, 18, MC, MC, 1, 12, 1, 65, 48, 54, MC, 26, 23, DNP, 12, 11, 9, 11

Overall, 12 of the 19 winners who defended this century finished T26 or better.

In that case, backing Lowry to finish in the top 20 at 8/5 seems a decent bet this week if you don't want to take the more ambitious route of taking him each-way in the win market at 40/1.

It's also worth checking how Lowry has performed when defending a title.

Lowry title defences

2009 Irish Open - After famously winning at County Louth when still an amateur, Lowry returned the following year to take T21 at Killarney.

2012 Portugal Masters - It wasn't a happy return to Dom Pedro Victoria 12 months later as he missed the cut.

2015 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational - Lowry's career took a big jump with a first WGC win at Firestone but a slow start (76) the following July left him T36.

2019 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship - The Irishman has a bizarre record in Abu Dhabi since 2012: five missed cuts and a win. One of those early exits came when defending in 2020 after scores of 70-74

2019 Open Championship - ?

Here's what Lowry said about his defence when speaking to the press on Monday.

On whether defending two years on is different to one year?

"I have no idea, to be honest. The thing is obviously I've defended tournaments before, but I've never come and defended a tournament of this magnitude. I've never really had that. Everything that happens for me this week is kind of new.

"But at the end of the day like it's just - I don't like using cliches - it's another golf tournament, it's another Major. Obviously there's going to be high pressure at certain stages. You want to go out there and do as best you can. I've got a lot more on my mind, a lot more to play for than just defending the trophy.

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"There's a lot of things that I've got to play for this week other than defending the trophy. It's a bit of everything. I think it's - to be announced on the first tee as defending champion, I'll be happy obviously to get that tee shot away, and if you've seen the rough down the first hole, I'll be happy if it's on the fairway, even happier if it's on the fairway.

"Yeah, I have no idea, but like I'm kind of going into this week with an open mind. I'm really looking forward to the week ahead, and I'm looking forward to kind of playing in the Open Championship, because we did miss it last year.

"I've obviously got a few of those to play in over the next number of years, which is pretty cool, and like I said, I'm just looking forward to the whole week."

On first glimpse of the course

"I got here at 8:00 this morning. The weather wasn't very favourable. I was planning on playing 18 holes, so I went out for a walk and I walked the front nine, and then I went out and I played -- I came back in when the weather brightened up and got my clubs and I played 12 holes. I played the first two and the last 11, last 10.

"Yeah, the course is good. Look, it's soft with all the rain. It's going to be soft probably for the next day or so. I think the forecast then, it's going to dry up and the course will hopefully dry out a little bit and play a little bit what St. George's is supposed to play like.

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"Yeah, it's difficult to get a feeling for what it could actually play like today because everything that I've heard over the years is that St. George's, you can hit decent shots and they get bounces on to the fairway and kicked into the rough. I didn't see any of that out there today. I suppose the next couple of practice rounds - I'm going to play late tomorrow, I might play late on Wednesday just trying to get a feeling for how fiery the course could actually play come Thursday."

On his current form

"It's been pretty good. I try not to think about it that much, but I've had some good results over the last number of months, and I'm pretty happy where my game is at. I've played a couple of links courses back home last week, which is pretty nice.

"It was nice to get away with my friends and just go out there and play some links golf and get some good prep for this week. You know, because it does take a little while to get used to playing links golf, and I think I kind of underestimated that.

"I remember my first full season on the PGA Tour, I came back and went to play the Scottish Open and struggled to get my head around hitting a 7-iron 150 yards as opposed to hitting it 180 or 190 over in the States.

"It does take a little bit of getting used to, but I feel like I'm there and I feel like I'm ready to kind of attack the week."

Lowry's Open record

2019 Royal Portrush - WIN

2018 Carnoustie - Missed Cut

2017 Royal Birkdale - Missed Cut

2016 Royal Troon - Missed Cut

2015 St Andrews - Missed Cut

2014 Royal Liverpool - 9th

2013 Muirfield - 32nd

2010 St Andrews - 37th

Lowry's current form - last 6 starts

Irish Open - 23rd

US Open - 65th

Memorial Tournament - 6th

PGA Championship - 4th

Wells Fargo Championship - 65th

The Heritage - 9th

READ MORE: The Sandwich epiphany: Bones Mackay on Phil Mickelson's linksland learning curve

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