Open Championship round four: How the Open was won, then lost, then won again ...
How gutting that the one vital weak spot Sergio Garcia worked feverishly to get right after Hoylake let him down at the last. That missed putt on the final hole of regulation was so unlucky (not to mention the ace that turned into a par in the playoff), but so many had already lipped out to suggest this was not to be his day.
Was it a “choke” as so many are feverishly arguing? Yes. He was nervous, tightened up, lost the dashing fluidity that had dazzled the world over the previous three days, and let slip an effective six-shot lead. By his own account he had a poor front nine and I would take issue with him that the back nine was such a huge improvement. In his defence, though, the only person I can think of who wouldn’t have tightened up in such an awesome situation is Tiger Woods.
But Garcia’s tactics were also awry. A defensive game plan didn’t fit a course where Sunday’s benign conditions, particularly the drop in the wind, laid it open to outright attack. In the end Garcia’s 73 was no match for Padraig Harrington’s 67 - his best round of the week. You have to go down to 19th place to find anyone who shot such high final rounds as the last pairing.
I recall blurting out “Van de Velde!” when Harrington’s ball went into the water for the second time on the 18th. It looked like game over, and the fact that the Spaniard could not wrap it up there and then will forever haunt him. A shame, because the golf he had previously displayed richly deserved major recognition. Now I’m not sure it will ever come.
What will haunt me is the derision I poured on Harrington before this got underway. His performances in both Europe and America since May have been pretty poor, but he is clearly one of those players that rises to the big occasion, as he showed by coming seventh in the Masters. I had also failed to factor in his extensive course knowledge from previous tournaments at Carnoustie. But I was intrigued by his comment that had he not won he might well have given up professional golf. Was it just a heat of the moment line or has he been secretly psyching himself up to this single goal over those lean months?
It’s still pretty amazing how he ended up with the claret jug. One minute he was a pretty anonymous member of a gaggle cutting an early dash, then suddenly he was hitting the pins and putting like an automaton. He looked like one too with those crazy staring eyes of his.
Richard Green shot a dazzling early course record to set a tough clubhouse target, Ernie Els launched a charge that faded at the turn, even Chris DiMarco briefly looked as though he might feature, and for a couple of holes or so at least Woods ran up the flag of attack. Then Andres Romero stuck in an astonishing 10-birdie blitz undone by over-excitement at the last and suddenly the Irish robot was in the red at the top of the leaderboard.
As he stood on the tee of the 18th the Irishman looked home and hosed. Bink, bonk, clang, sperlaaaash! Was this golf, or pinball? The rest is history.
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