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Twice in water doesn't wash out Harrington

The Irishman rallies from a Van de Velde-like collapse on the 72nd hole to win his first major title by beating Garcia in a playoff.

July 23, 2007|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

CARNOUSTIE, SCOTLAND — Even with its meandering Barry Burn and its ravenous pot bunkers and its belligerent rough, No. 18 at Carnoustie needs a makeover. It needs curtains, it needs a marquee and it needs not marshals but ushers. It's not a golf hole; it's a genuine, high-end theater.

Eight years after Jean Van de Velde took his shoes off and waded unforgettably into the Barry Burn as the epitomizing spectacle of an unthinkable triple bogey, the hole called "Home" staged a fiendish tweak in the plot Sunday.

It had 35-year-old Irishman Padraig Harrington dunking two balls into the twisty creek on the same No. 18 to blow a one-shot lead so graphically that even Harrington's wife thought of Van de Velde. But, for variety, in an uncanny reprieve, it had this same guy winning the 136th British Open in a playoff for his first major title on his 37th try.

That's because No. 18 flashed a fresh theatrical dimension, a snarling, sneering lip of its cup.

That lip all but jumped out and bit Sergio Garcia as the 27-year-old Spaniard sent an unafraid seven-foot putt streaming toward the 72nd hole and a chance for his first major championship on his 36th try.

As the putt rolled all firm and bold, Harrington watched from a hut with the TV sound turned down so as to miss any commentary on his closing double-bogey six. He also watched from the kind of career-threatening emotional precipice only golf can foist, noting later that had he Van de Velde'd the tournament, "I think I would have struggled to come back out and be a competitive golfer."

The ball left Garcia's comforting new belly putter.

"He hit a lovely putt," Harrington said.

"I still don't know how that par putt missed," Garcia said.

It started to duck in dutifully from the left.

"His putt was incredibly unlucky to miss," Harrington said.

"I'm still trying to ask myself, trying to find an answer on that," Garcia said.

It curled around the back of the cup and was thrown out.

No. 18 had plot-twisted again, and the exquisite meanness of golf had flared. Garcia buried his head between his arms. He raised his head and put his hands on it.

The bogey left Garcia and Harrington tied at seven-under-par 277 through 72 holes. So Garcia proceeded to an unwanted four-hole playoff, which he lost to Harrington by one shot after Harrington forged a two-shot lead on the first hole, No. 1.

The tournament Garcia had led wire to wire, starting with Thursday's sublime 65, had escaped him, come back to him and escaped again, all in the same palpitating Sunday.

Harrington had recovered from a six-shot chasm to become the first Irishman to win a major tournament since Fred Daly won the British Open in 1947. The European continent had its first major champion after a 31-major famine that stretched back to Paul Lawrie's title at Van de Velde's expense in 1999.

So much happened Sunday, here's a mere sampling: In benign conditions, Garcia, leading Steve Stricker by three shots and Harrington (plus six other golfers) by six at the outset, made three bogeys in four holes on the front nine to match the three he'd made in the first 58 holes since Thursday.

"If you're trying to win an Open championship and you're leading and you're not nervous, then you must be dead," he said.

His score dropped to seven under. Ernie Els charged to within one shot, then subsided. Harrington rocketed from three under to six under on the front nine alone. Then came one Andres Romero, a baby-faced 27-year-old Argentine in only his third major.

Painting an iridescent scorecard full of reds (birdies) and blues (bogeys, double bogeys), Romero birdied Nos. 10 and 11 (with a chip from a bunker), took a double bogey on No. 12, then birdied Nos. 13, 14, 15 and 16 as any hole within a shout of his putter seemed as wide as the Firth of Tay.

He went to No. 17 at nine under with a two-shot lead, then finished double bogey, bogey.

"No disappointment at all," he said from his youth, noting, "I belonged out there."

In the next, hectic moments, Harrington rose to nine under by trickling in a 20-foot eagle putt on No. 14. Romero dropped to seven under with his double bogey at No. 17 and to six under with a bogey at No. 18. Garcia birdied No. 13 and No. 14 to reach nine under but bogeyed No. 15.

Harrington played No. 18 while Garcia played the adjacent No. 17, so Garcia knew Harrington's drive had bounced just before a bridge on No. 18 and then -- who writes No. 18's scripts? -- tried to cross the bridge before falling off at the last moment.

Harrington took a drop and chunked one into the creek's next crossing. He made a gritty up-and-down with an agonizing four-foot save for double bogey, bringing Garcia to No. 18 needing only par. After a flawless drive, Garcia waited for the group ahead.

"Then it seemed to take a long time to rake two bunkers, a very long time," Garcia said. "It's not fun, not fun standing there."

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