Largest 54-Hole Lead Lost in the British Open

What is the biggest blown lead after 54 holes in the British Open? Two golfers share this record, it's just one of those record nobody wants. The biggest lead after three rounds by any golfer who failed to win is five strokes. The two golfers who share the record are Macdonald Smith and Jean Van de Velde.

Macdonald Smith, 1925

Macdonald Smith led by five strokes following the third round of the 1925 Open Championship, but he finished in fourth place. The 1925 Open was the last time the Open took place at Prestwick, its original course. And it took place over only two days, 36 holes on Day 1 and 36 holes on Day 2.

Smith led by two at the end of Day 1 (36 holes). And despite shooting 76 in the third round, he stretched his lead over second-place Jim Barnes and Archie Compston to five strokes.

Barnes' final round of 74 was over before Smith even got started. So Smith knew Barnes' score (300) and what he needed to score (78) to beat it. Unfortunately for Smith, he went out in 42 and was unable to right himself on the back nine. A crowd of 10,000 spectators following and crowding Smith — crowd control measures such as roping-and-staking were virtually non-existent at the time — didn't help.

Smith shot 82 in the final round and dropped to fourth place. Barnes won, with Compston and Ted Ray tied for second.

Jean Van de Velde, 1999

The unheralded Van de Velde led the 1999 Open Championship by one after 36 holes and by five strokes after 54 holes. Justin Leonard was one of the two golfers tied for second, five behind Van de Velde after that third round. Paul Lawrie was a whopping 10 strokes off Van de Velde's lead.

But in that final round, Lawrie shot 67, Leonard 72 and Van de Velde 77. They improbably wound up tied at 290 after Van de Velde's late collapse. By the 12th hole, Van de Velde trailed by one. But a few holes later Van de Velde was back in front by three, and it was a 3-stroke lead he took to the 72nd hole.

Van de Velde's drive on No. 18 landed on the 17th hole. His approach to the green hit the grandstand and caromed 50 yards backward. He tried to hack out of thick round and wound up in a deep burn. After getting down into the water, he decided to take a penalty stroke and a drop. His next shot was into a bunker. Van de Velde got out of the bunker and make his putt for a triple-bogey 8.

The four-hole, aggregate-score playoff was anticlimactic after that: Lawrie won by three strokes. Not only did Van de Velde tie the British Open record for largest 54-hole lead lost, but Lawrie set a tournament, major championship and PGA Tour record for largest final-round comeback to win: 10 strokes.

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