CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Anywhere else, Padraig Harrington might have walked off the 18th green knowing his two shots that found the bottom of Barry Burn for double bogey had cost him the British Open.
Not at Carnoustie, where calamity can strike at any second and did during Sunday’s final round.
One shot crashed off the stone wall of the burn and ricocheted 50 yards across the wrong fairway and out-of-bounds. Another bounced across a tiny bridge until it plunged over the side on the last hop. Still another looked like a hole-in-one until it smacked the base of the pin and caromed 18 feet away.
The final hour was golf theater at its best.
In a nail-biter that stirred memories of Jean Van de Velde’s famous collapse in 1999, Harrington delivered the fitting finish to a day that kept everyone guessing. He took a two-shot lead to the final hole of a playoff, and still had to sweat out a 3-foot bogey putt to beat Sergio Garcia.
“I know it was only a short putt, but the emotions of it,” Harrington said. “I couldn’t believe it as it was rolling in from right in the middle of the hole, and I’m thinking, ‘The Open champion.’ A huge amount of it was genuine shock.”
It must have been equally shocking to Garcia.
He was poised to capture his first major championship until he blew a three-shot lead in the final round. Harrington gave him one more chance with that double bogey on the 18th hole in regulation. Needing a par to win, Garcia hit into a bunker and missed a 10-foot par putt.
“Now, if Sergio parred the last and I did lose, I think I would have struggled to come back out and be a competitive golfer,” Harrington said. “It meant that much to me. But I never let it sink into me that I had just thrown away the Open championship.”
He became the first Irishman in 60 years with his name on the claret jug, and Harrington ended Europe’s eight-year drought in the majors. The victory moved him up to No. 6 in the world, part of the elite.
All because of a double bogey on the 72nd hole.
Harrington looked as though he might get the break of a lifetime when his tee shot dribbled across the bridge, a yard away from safety until it dove over the railing. After taking a penalty drop, he hung his head when his 5-iron bounced into the burn.
It was a sick feeling, the same one Van de Velde surely felt when he hit into the same stream. Harrington gave no thought to removing his shoes and stepping into the burn. Instead, he figured out how to get up and down for double bogey. He pitched to 5 feet behind the hole and made perhaps the biggest putt of the round.
“That was probably the most pressure-filled putt I had of the day,” Harrington. “If I missed it, it was the end of it. And to hole it was a great boost to me. That was a moment that I thought, ‘Now maybe things are going to go my way.’ “
He never gave Garcia another chance.
Harrington hit 7-iron into 6 feet for birdie on the first of four playoff holes, while Garcia dumped his shot into a bunker and couldn’t get up and down to fall two shots behind. Garcia must have known it was over with two holes remaining when, on the next hole, his 3-iron at the 248-yard 16th hopped twice and appeared to be going in until the pin knocked it away.
“You know what’s the saddest thing about it? It’s not the first time. It’s not the first time, unfortunately,” Garcia said. “I don’t know. I’m playing against a lot of guys out there, more than the field.”
The guy who should really have been moaning was Andres Romero, a 26-year-old Argentine who looked as if he might be the next unlikely champion at Carnoustie. He made 10 birdies, including four in a row to give himself a two-shot lead, when the pressure caught up to him and a bad break followed.
From the right rough on the 17th, his 2-iron was headed for the burn when it ricocheted off the stone walls and shot out-of-bounds, just beyond the fence on the other side of the 18th fairway. He did well to make double bogey, and his 12-foot par putt on the final hole hit the back of the cup and spun away.
“I did it on 17, not 18,” Romero said when asked if he would be linked to Van de Velde. “But I could be put into that category by some. I certainly wasn’t thinking about Jean Van de Velde at that moment.”
As it all wrapped up, a rainbow stretched over the course by the North Sea, capping another magical day on perhaps the toughest links in golf. Like the last Open at Carnoustie, there was chaos in the end.
Only this time, it involved more than one player.
Van de Velde self-destructed all on his own in 1999, blowing a three-shot lead on the final hole with a shot that caromed off a tiny railing in the grandstand, another one into the burn, another in the bunker.
Eight years later, the bad luck belonged to Romero, the bad bounce went to Harrington. That left only bad timing for Garcia.
It was his third time to play in the final group of a major, this time with Tiger Woods out of the picture early. But the 27-year-old Spaniard couldn’t buy a putt, and he couldn’t get a break.
He closed with a 73, joining Harrington in the playoff at 7-under 277. The winning score was 13 shots lower than it was the last time at Carnoustie, but everything else – especially the final holes – was eerily similar.
Almost lost in the crazy finish was the end of Woods’ two-year reign at the British Open. Trying to become the first player in 51 years to win the claret jug three straight times, he was never a factor. He finished with a 70, five shots behind in a tie for 12th.
“I wasn’t as sharp as I needed to be,” Woods said.
Romero shot a 67 in the final round and was the only player to shoot par or better all four days. He had a 34 on the back nine, despite two double bogeys that kept him from joining Angel Cabrera as a major champion from Argentina.
Richard Green of Australia matched the British Open record at Carnoustie with a 64 and finished at 279 with Ernie Els (69).
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