Jesper Parnevik knew the score this time - and that Justin Leonard was the British Open champion.
Three years ago, Parnevik didn’t look at the leaderboard and lost the British Open to Nick Price on a needless gamble.
On Sunday, he watched as Leonard shot one of the great finishing rounds in major championship history to win an Open that Parnevik led by as many as four strokes on the final day.
The crushing blow came on the 17th hole when Parnevik stood on the tee and saw Leonard roll in a 35-foot birdie putt to take the lead for the first time all week.
“I just knew from about 3 feet out that it was right in the center of the hole,” Leonard said. “That’s when the hair on the back of my neck stood up.”
Parnevik bogeyed the hole to fall two behind and the tournament was over.
“I came up to 17 and watched his birdie and the air kind of went out of my sails for good,” Parnevik said.
It was just 10 miles down the coast at Turnberry where Parnevik failed to look at the scoreboard on the final hole in 1994 and made a bogey to finish one stroke behind Price.
“This one hurts a lot more than Turnberry,” the Swede said. “I think the pressure was too much. It was a struggle all day.”
As Parnevik walked up the 18th fairway to a thunderous ovation, the inescapable truth was written in the black letters on the giant yellow scoreboard: He was second once again.
“This one is probably going to stick a little bit longer than last time,” Parnevik said. “This time, I actually thought I was going to pull it off.”
If not for Leonard, he likely would have done so.
The 25-year-old Texan closed with a 65 to win the 126th Open at 12-under-par 272 by three strokes over Parnevik and Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland.
Jim Furyk was fourth with a 279 and Padraig Harrington of Ireland finished at 280 along with Stephen Ames of Trinidad.
Tiger Woods stumbled once again, making a triple bogey on the par-3 eighth hole in shooting a 74 to finish 12 strokes back.
Woods, who started the day eight strokes behind, made a bit of a run with two early birdies, but lost any hope on the 126-yard Postage Stamp hole when it took him two shots to get out of a bunker.
Big numbers did Woods in at Royal Troon: He had two triple bogeys and a quadruple bogey.
Leonard’s closing round ranks with the 67 by Nick Faldo in the 1996 Masters, the 64 by Greg Norman in the 1993 British Open and the 63 by Johnny Miller in the 1973 U.S. Open.
All of them shot scores no one else could come near on the final day. So did Leonard. Of the 16 players who started the day under par, Leonard was the only one to shoot a round in the 60s.
“Just to be able to come through with the tournament on the line, that’s the kind of confidence I’ll be able to take away from here,” Leonard said.
He joins Jim Barnes in 1925 as the only players to start the final round five strokes behind and win the British Open.
As Leonard brushed back tears when he was awarded the silver claret jug that goes to the winner, the scoreboard carried the message: “Well done, Justin. See you at Royal Birkdale in 1998.”
Leonard, the fifth consecutive American to win at Troon, starting with Arnold Palmer in 1962, was a picture of calm on the course.
“I think part of that, being five back, I had maybe a little bit more relaxed attitude,” Leonard said.
“I thought more about the Ryder Cup team, knowing I could lock it up today,” he said. “Then I thought: ‘Wait a second. You’re playing a golf tournament here and a lot of things can happen.’ “
Needing only to two-putt on the final hole, Leonard stroked his 30-footer gently toward the hole, gave out a big sigh and rolled his eyes as it nestled within tap-in distance.
“That last putt, I was just praying that I could two-putt,” Leonard said. “It was surprising how calm I stayed.”
It was the first major championship for the 25-year-old Texan who has now won three tournaments in less than a year.
Leonard won with a hot putter that helped him get six birdies on the front nine to get back in the hunt. He then closed with a series of great putts to blow past Parnevik.
“Making those putts on 15, 16 and 17,” Leonard said, searching for words to describe the feeling. “The hole just opened up for me today.”
Leonard made a 12-footer to save par on the 15th.
“That was the tournament right there,” Leonard said.
He followed it with a 15-footer for birdie on the next hole and then the 35-foot birdie putt on No. 17.
Parnevik, meanwhile, missed a 5-foot birdie putt at No. 16 to keep his slim lead, then made two sloppy bogeys on the final two holes.
What started as a possible Parnevik runaway turned into a tense tussle when Leonard applied the pressure over the closing holes.
Leonard got to 12 under and took the lead with the birdie on No. 17. He then waited on the 18th tee right near the 16th green as Parnevik attempted his birdie and drove on the final hole after he heard the groan.
Parnevik, who handled the difficult back nine at a cumulative 6-under-par in the first three rounds, played those holes 3-over-par under Sunday’s pressure.
Leonard’s victory meant that along with Woods in the Masters and Ernie Els in the U.S. Open, all three major championship winners this year were in their 20s.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: BRITISH OPEN Final round leaders at the 126th British Open, played at Royal Troon Golf Club in Troon, Scotland: 1. J. Leonard 272 2. D. Clarke 275 3. J. Parnevik 275 4. J. Furyk 279 5. S. Ames 280 6. P. Harrington 280 7. P. O’Malley 281 8. E. Romero 281 9. F. Couples 281 10 players tied for 10th place at 282.
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