Agony and Ecstasy

July 30, 2007
July 30, 2007

Table of Contents
July 30, 2007

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Agony and Ecstasy

Woe is the Open leader who comes to the 18th at Carnoustie on Sunday. It sucked the life out of Sergio García, but Padraig Harrington recovered from his own disaster to win a playoff

You see theEuropean Ryder Cup team celebrating another victory--whether it's in Ireland orEngland or Spain or the United States--and the boys always look like one bighappy family, right? There's Sergio García of Spain, singing from a balcony,waving a flag, his arm around one of his mates. There's Padraig Harrington ofIreland taking a swig from a magnum of Mo√´t, then passing the dark-green bottledown the line. ¬∂ Those chummy Euros. And then came Sunday night at the links ofCarnoustie, another Scottish muni that is bleak and severe and oddly inviting,just like the old one in St. Andrews. That's when Harrington, 35, and García,27--tied at seven-under-par 277 at the end of regulation--played a four-holeplayoff for the most important title in the global village of golf: Openchampion.

This is an article from the July 30, 2007 issue

When García andHarrington gathered on the 1st tee for the playoff, each man looking to win hisfirst major, they exchanged a quick and meager handshake. If there was peace,love and understanding on that tee, you couldn't feel it.

About 40 minutesafter the playoff began, the two protagonists were on the 18th tee for thefinal hole, Harrington up by two shots. As the Dubliner stood over his teeshot, he saw García standing almost on the right tee marker. Crowding theplayer is a classic Ryder Cup move. Harrington, tense but composed, askedGarcía for some space. Playing like the accountant he once studied to be, hethen proceeded to turn the 499-yard par-4 into a three-shotter and with aclosing bogey won the playoff, and the championship, by a stroke.

At the awardsceremony afterward, Harrington, a man with a goofy smile and an endearingearnestness, did not praise García for his sustained and excellent play--theSpaniard led after each of the first three rounds and took a three-shot edgeinto Sunday. The Irishman, who began the final round trailing by six, simplysaid García's day would come.

"He's a younglad," said Harrington, the first Irish winner of the Open since Fred Dalyin 1947. The subdued crowd--Sunday on the Angus coast was cool and gray, andfew of the menfolk had been drinking--laughed benignly.

As Harringtonlifted the claret jug--and as his wife of 10 years, Caroline, chased theirthree-year-old son, Patrick, across the 18th green--the reputations of two menrose with it. Harrington, of course, will be looked at with newfound respect,but the other man looking better is the Frenchman Jean Van de Velde, whoscrewed up so royally at Carnoustie in 1999. It's not just that we now reallyunderstand the curse of Carnoustie's home hole (Life of Reilly, page 70), butwe also can now fully appreciate the Gallic charm and poise with which Van deVelde handled his collapse. García blamed his bogey finish at the 72nd hole onbad luck, slow play and a greater plan. ("It wasn't meant to be," hesaid.) Eight years ago Van de Velde, who is not playing now because of anundisclosed illness, told reporters, "Don't look so sad." On Sundaynight García sarcastically told the throng, "I'm thrilled." His painwas perhaps understandable. He had been a king for three days.

Phil Mickelson usedto have the damn-me-with-faint-praise title as the best golfer never to havewon a major, and then he went on a Tigeresque tear, winning three majors in twoyears. (He missed the cut at Carnoustie, and don't be surprised if he shutsdown his season after the PGA Championship next month, skipping the PresidentsCup and all the season-ending FedEx Cup events to fully rest his strained leftwrist.) Going into the playoff, Harrington and García were trying to ridthemselves of their claims to the title. Now it's a two-man race, and ColinMontgomerie, 44, probably will never get one of the game's four grand prizes.For Sergio, it's harder to know.

García is aformidable talent, but he's already been through a mild form of the puttingdisease known as the yips (last week he used a belly putter) and anothergolfing mental disorder, the regrips (in which you can't begin the backswing).He's not a gifted putter. Of the four majors, the British suits him bestbecause the greens are flatter and slower than at the other majors. Harrington,really, is in another league. He has the game, and the head, to win any ofthem.

They came to themoney game differently. García, after a vaunted amateur career, turned pro at18, and within a few months he had won the Irish Open and nearly won the PGAChampionship. Harrington turned pro at 24, after earning his accounting degree."My goal was to be a journeyman," he said on Sunday night. "Ithought I could make a living at the game." He has succeeded, and thensome.

Sergio began theplayoff bewildered that his 10-footer to win on the 72nd had slid by the holeand irritated by longish waits as he played his final holes. Harrington beganthe playoff relieved to be in it. He had butchered the 72nd hole, hitting twoballs in the water en route to a double bogey, but he was still breathing.

Both golfers hadcornermen. Miguel Angel Jimenez, the Spanish Ryder Cupper, crouched in thewings in support of García. Thirty feet away stood Paul McGinley, the IrishRyder Cupper and Harrington's close friend. Aware that no European had won amajor since Paul Lawrie won the British in '99, Jimenez said of the last twomen standing, "The good thing is, no matter what, a European will win theOpen."

He meant it, butonly to a point. In the week in which Seve Ballesteros, the brilliant Spanishperformance artist, announced his retirement from golf, the fitting thing mighthave been for one of Seve's golfing progeny to win the Open championship. AsSeve did in the '70s and '80s, Sergio plays golf fueled by emotion. But on his72nd hole, needing par to win, he ditched emotion and tried to win playing, hesaid, "the right way"--by taking an iron off the tee. The lesson of Vande Velde, in some way, had to be deep in his head. Van de Velde was true to hisgolfing self and lost. (He hit driver.) Sergio was not, but he lost too,clubbing his approach into a bunker and making 5. The hole's too damn hard. Howgreat.

Carnoustie's 6thhas a strip of land called Hogan's Alley. In his only British Open, Wee Ben wonat Carnoustie, in 1953. There's a plaque on the 6th tee honoring Hogan and aquote from him: "I don't like the glamour--I just like the game."Harrington is cut from the same cloth: Analyze and execute, again and again. Ifyou screw up, just play the next shot. Easy to say, hard to do. Sergio knowsthat, now more than ever.

Regarding thewinner: If Hogan were around, he'd appreciate the guy.


Indelible Images

A gallery of winning shots from Carnoustie.


"My goal was to be a journeyman," Harringtonsaid. "I thought I could MAKE A LIVING at the game." He's succeeded,and then some.
García hung his head in despair on the 18th¬†green after his par putt towin in regulation slid by.
Claret jug in hand, Harrington soaked in the applause for the first European towin a major in eight years.
Harrington, who studied accounting, cashed in during the playoff with solid,conservative play.