The 18th hole at Carnoustie, famed for the paddle in the Barry Burn and last-ditch collapse of Jean Van de Velde in 1999 produced more last-minute drama on Sunday, as the Irishman Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia of Spains both wasted chances to win this year’s Open Championship.
Before the excitement of a four-hole play-off that eventually saw Harrington presented with the winners’ Claret Jug and ended Europe’s eight-year wait to produce the winner of a major golf tournament, a day of some brilliant golf from a number of players also contained some more memorable blunders.
Harrington stood on the 18th tee with a one-shot lead over the Spaniard, but not only put his drive into the burn where it runs across the fairway but then his next shot into water, carding a double bogey.
Next it was Garcia’s turn to play with a one-stroke advantage, but he frittered that away by finding a greenside bunker.
However, almost an hour later when the players returned to the 18th tee for the final hole of their play-off, Harrington held a two-shot lead, having birdied the first extra hole to Garcia’s bogey five. Harrington’s nerve held.
The Dubliner produced the perfect drive into the middle of the fairway to record the bogey that would make him the first Irishman to win the Open since Fred Daly’s triumph at Hoylake 60 years ago.
Earlier in the day if there was a sight that could have unnerved Garcia and the other final day’s challengers it was that of Tiger Woods holing birdie putts on his fourth and fifth holes just as the overnight leader was making his final preparations to begin his last round.
Garcia held a three-shot advantage over the field but starting his day with an eight-shot cushion over the world number one was never going to be a guarantee of success.
When Woods dropped a shot at the eighth hole after driving into a waterlogged bunker his chances of bridging the gap and becoming the first player to win three successive Opens since the Australian Peter Thompson in the 1950s virtually evaporated.
Of the early starters the Australian Richard Green had already produced a 64 to equal the course record and sit in the clubhouse at five under par. Woods also had ground to make up on Americans Hunter Mahan and Chris DiMarco who, in spite of starting in the morning’s pouring rain both handed in 65s.
In the end the challenge to Garcia came in a pincer movement from Harrington and from Andres Romero, a 26-year-old Argentinian playing in only his second major tournament but who himself had a wonderful chance to follow in the footsteps of his countryman Angel Cabrera, who won last month’s US Open.
He had begun the day seven shots back at two under par, realistically looking for a top-10 finish to gain an automatic place to play in next year’s Open at Royal Birkdale. But four birdies in his first eight holes took him through the field – an astonishing run that suggests Romero might have the perfect golfing temperament.
When his drive found a the middle of a gorse bush beside the 12th fairway he had no option but to take a line-of-sight drop some 50 yards away on the ninth fairway, and when he ran up a double bogey all looked lost.
However, Romero responded by producing birdies at the next four holes only to see his brilliant recovery falter at the 17th where his second shot hit the stones on the side of the Barry Burn and ricocheted 30 yards across the 18th and out of bounds. In the end he signed for a 67, which contained 10 birdies and put him at six under par, having to settle for third place.