Highest Scores Ever in the British Open for 18 Holes

David Duval scored a 91 in the first round of the 2019 Open Championship

In the first round of the 2019 British Open, David Duval carded a score so high that it took a while to figure out what he'd actually shot. It wound up as a 91. Where does that rank among the worst scores in British Open history for an 18-hole round? Unfortunately for Duval, it makes the list.

To record a 91, a golfer has to play poorly throughout. But in Duval's case, it helped that he had one really bad blow-up hole. For Duval, in 2019, it was the seventh hole of his first round at Royal Portrush.

On that hole, Duval's score was first reported as a 13. Then a 15. Finally, tournament organizers settled on a 14. Here's the text of the R&A bulletin that finally established Duval's score on that hole as a 14:

"David lost his first two balls from the tee and then played a wrong ball for the third ball played from the tee. On discovering the mistake at the green, he had to return to where the wrong ball was played, but the correct ball could not be found. Therefore, he had to play again from the tee for a fourth time under penalty of stroke and distance. He played six shots in completing the hole with the fourth ball from the tee. He incurred a two-shot penalty for playing the wrong ball ..."

No wonder they had a hard time figuring out his score! But once the R&A adjusted Duval's seventh-hole score to 14, that made his overall score for the first round 20-over-par 91.

And, unfortunately for Duval, that adjustment to a 91 put him on the following list.

Highest Scores By Decade in the British Open

These are the highest 18-hole rounds by decade in the Open Championship, going back to the 1890s. (It only goes back that far for two reasons: first, record-keeping gets spotty the farther back you go, and, second, many Opens prior to that time were played over 12-hole rounds.)

This list includes one World Golf Hall of Fame member plus three other major championship winners.

  • 1892-1899: 130, John Hughes, second round, 1894 at Royal St. George's
  • 1900-1909: 101 by four golfers — John Wilson, 1900; J.S. Caird, 1901; B. Smith (amateur), 1904; J. Walker, 1904
  • 1910-1914: 107, A.H. Molesworth, first round, 1911 at Royal St George’s
  • 1920-1929: 94 by two golfers — Albert S. Tingey Jr., 1923 (Troon) and Charles White, 1925 (Prestwick)
  • 1930-39: 92 by three golfers — James McDowall, 1930; Tom Walker Jr., 1931; C.A. Winks, 1936
  • 1946-49: 90, A.W. Sanders, first round, 1946 at The Old Course at St. Andrews
  • 1950-59: 93, Vicomte De Saint-Saveur (amateur), first round, 1953 at Carnoustie
  • 1960-69: 94, Robin Davenport, first round, 1966 at Muirfield
  • 1970-79: 93, Henry Cotton, first round, 1977 at Turnberry
  • 1980-89: 95, Guy McQuitty, first round, 1986 at Turnberry
  • 1990-99: 92, Ian Baker-Finch, first round, 1997 at Troon
  • 2000-09: 89, John Daly, second round, 2008 at Royal Birkdale
  • 2010-19: 91, David Duval, first round, 2019 at Royal Portrush
The Hall of Famer is Cotton, the major winners are Baker-Finch, Daly and Duval in addition to Cotton. All four of them were past Open champs at the time of their high scores, Cotton a three-time winner. Cotton was 70-years-old at the time of his high score; the others, although past their primes, were still within the age bracket associated with tour golfers.

Photo credit: "David Duval"by Tour Pro Golf Clubs is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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