A historical look at British Open heartbreak
GULLANE, Scotland (AP) — Not many people believed Adam Scott when he said he would take nothing but positives away from the British Open last year, despite blowing a four-shot lead with four holes remaining by closing with four straight bogeys at Royal Lytham & St. Annes and losing by one shot to Ernie Els.
It was crushing. Surely, it must have been devastating.
“I think if I sat there and watched someone else do what I did, it would have been devastating,” Scott said in June. “I didn’t feel that way. I felt like I played good enough to win and I almost had in my head. It wasn’t heartbreaking like I would imagine it looked, or if I’d watched someone else do it.”
Scott rebounded quickly by winning the Masters about nine months later. It didn’t make up for losing the British Open, but his assessment of his game was proven correct.
“If there is such a thing as golf gods, I think they heard the prayers of Adam Scott’s fans,” Paul Azinger said this week.
Not everyone is so fortunate.
There is plenty of heartache in the British Open, and not everyone recovers, even if they have major championships to soothe them.
Here are five examples of heart-breaking moments in golf’s oldest championship:
5. OH, HALE
Hale Irwin was going along nicely in the third round in 1983 at Royal Birkdale as he tried to keep pace with four-time champion Tom Watson. On the 14th hole, Irwin had about a 12-foot birdie putt to reach 7 under, and he left the putt one turn short.
What happened next remains a mystery.
Irwin went to back-hand the putt when his putter bounced off the ground and over the ball — a whiff. It counted as a stroke, and Irwin tapped in for a bogey. He fumbled the ball as he retrieved it from the cup, and then he made bogey on the next hole, clearly rattled. Irwin wound up with a 72, four shots behind Watson.
He made a beautiful charge on Sunday with a 67, but there was this sinking feeling that giving away a stroke is never good in a major, particularly in the British Open when Watson is in the lead. Sure enough, Watson had two putts from 20 feet for the win.
“Now I’ve got to go see Watson two-putt this thing and make me cry,” Irwin said.
Watson lagged it toward the hole, tapped in for a 70 and won his fifth Open.
Irwin would win a third U.S. Open at age 45 seven years later, but he never had another chance in the British Open.
4. BJORN’S BUNKER
The opening round of the 2003 Open at Royal St. George’s might have been an omen for Thomas Bjorn. A bad omen. He was in a bunker and failed to get out, and slammed his club into the sand out of disgust. That turned into a two-shot penalty for testing the conditions because his ball returned to the sand.
But that was nothing compared with Sunday.
With an All-Star cast of contenders, Bjorn played beautifully and built a two-shot lead with three holes to play. He found a bunker on the par-3 16th, with the pin near the edge of the green. Bjorn blasted onto the green, but not hard enough and the ball rolled back into the sand. He hit again, and the same thing happened. He finally got it out on the third try and made the putt for double bogey.
Now he was tied.
He missed a 6-foot par putt on the 17th, and his only chance to win was to chip in from long range for birdie on the 18th. It never had a chance, and Ben Curtis was the Open champion.
“I certainly feel like I deserve a little bit more than I got this week,” Bjorn said. “That’s the way it is. You go on. But I’m sure it’s going to be tough the next few days.”
Bjorn had another chance in the Open when it returned to Sandwich in 2011. He shared the first-round lead, but wound up four shots behind Darren Clarke.
3. SHARK IN THE SAND
Greg Norman’s only win in the majors at Turnberry in 1986 failed to change his luck. Bob Tway holed a bunker shot on the 72nd hole to beat him in the next major at the U.S. PGA Championship. Larry Mize holed a 140-foot chip at the Masters to beat him in a playoff at the next major.
And then came a dream final round, only for the Shark to suffer another nightmare at Royal Troon in the 1989 British Open.
He was poised to stage one of the great comebacks in a major. Seven shots behind, he birdied the opening six holes and closed with a 64, at the time matching the lowest final round in Open history. It was enough to get into a four-hole playoff with Mark Calcavecchia and Wayne Grady.
Norman birdied the first two holes, took bogey after a chip that hit the pin on the 17th and was tied with Calcavecchia playing the 18th in the aggregate playoff. He blasted a tee shot that didn’t stop rolling until it settled next to the face of a bunker. Norman blasted out to another bunker, and his third shot rolled out-of-bounds. He never finished the hole. Calcavecchia was the Open champion. Norman had more major heartburn.
Asked if destiny owed him one, Norman replied, “It owes me about four.”
2. JACKLIN AT MUIRFIELD
What was supposed to be Jack Nicklaus going after the third leg of the Grand Slam turned into a duel at Muirfield in 1972 between Lee Trevino and Tony Jacklin, each winners of the U.S. Open and British Open. They were tied after 36 holes, Trevino pulled one shot ahead going into the final round, and they were tied again with two holes to play. Nicklaus had closed with a 66 and was one shot behind.
This looked to be Jacklin’s moment, however.
Trevino was through the green on a slight hill beyond it in four shots on the par-5 17th. Jacklin was just short of the green in two and chipped to 20 feet. It appeared at worst that Jacklin would take a one-shot lead to the final hole.
In a shocking turn of events, Trevino chipped in for par, his fourth chip-in of the week. Determined not to let Trevino beat him, Jacklin rammed his putt about 3 feet by the hole and missed the par putt coming back. Just like that, he was one shot down, and bogeyed the last as Trevino repeated as British Open champion.
“It knocked the stuff out of me as far as major championships went,” said Jacklin, who never contended in another one.
1. THE FRENCHMAN’S FOLLIES
Lost in the craziness of Carnoustie in 1999 was that Jean Van de Velde played brilliant golf over 71 holes on the course reputed to be the toughest links in the world. It was enough to carry him to a three-shot lead going to the 18th hole.
And that’s where it all went wrong. Van de Velde hit driver toward the winding Barry Burn, but caught a good lie in the rough. Instead of laying up short of the burn, he hit a 2-iron that would have been fine except that it hit a small rail on the grandstand to the right of the green and bounced back over the burn into thick rough. For his third shot, it came out heavy and into the burn.
Van de Velde stood in the cold water debating whether to hit his shot. He smartly took a penalty shot, and put his fifth in a greenside bunker. He blasted out to 8 feet and made the putt for triple bogey to fall into a three-man playoff with Paul Lawrie and Justin Leonard.
Lawrie won the playoff, while Van de Velde earned his way into British Open lore with a collapse unlike any other in a major.
“I went for it and all the glory,” Van de Velde said. “Now I have to pay the price.”