CARNOUSTIE, Scotland — Glass half full played glass half empty at the 136th British Open on Sunday. Guess which one won?
In his comments to the media on Saturday, Padraig Harrington said he probably didn't have much of a chance. He would start the final day six strokes behind Sergio Garcia. He needed to play his best golf and assumed he'd already done it, having gone nine under par through 12 holes of his Wednesday practice round. Besides, it was obvious that Garcia was in command. What were the odds he would back up?
But Harrington had a secret: He had been convincing himself all week that he was going to win. And more to the point, the golf gods hate predictability, especially at Carnoustie, which will forever be joined at the brain with Jean Van de Velde. We should have known it was going to be a strange day when putting savant Steve Stricker missed a three-footer on the 2nd hole, the equivalent of a cat landing on its head.
As it turned out, Harrington didn't have to go crazy-low because Garcia came back just enough. The Irishman Harrington posted a four-under 67 after twice hitting into the Barry Burn and getting up-and-down for double bogey on the 18th. That didn't look good enough to win until Garcia, playing two groups behind, bogeyed the 18th to force a four-hole playoff. Harrington took a two-shot lead with a birdie on the first extra hole, to Garcia's bogey out of the front bunker, and never relinquished it. He captured his first major title, the first for a European since Paul Lawrie won the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie and the first for an Irishman since Fred Daly won in 1947 at Royal Liverpool.
"I'm a big believer in fate," said Harrington, who saw his first good omen of the day when his second shot on the 14th hole took a fortuitous bounce and rolled close to the hole. He made the eagle putt. "I'd lost to Sergio in a playoff a couple of times before, so I knew I was due."
A huge scrum of press and a handful of players followed the two as they toured the 1st, 16th, 17th and 18th holes. Miguel Angel Jimenez watched with a cigar in hand. Tom Lehman watched with his son. Matt Kuchar, who missed the cut, watched with his wife. The couple had been sightseeing and listening to the radio in the car as regulation play unfolded, and they rushed back to watch the playoff.
Garcia, too, is a big believer in fate. He intimated after his round that the golf gods, or some other unseen forces, are out to get him. The last hole of regulation and the four in overtime were a microcosm of his career in the big events, notwithstanding the Ryder Cup: a bunch of decent-enough looking putts that missed by a fraction of an inch.
"I should write a book on how to not miss a shot in the playoff and shoot one over," he said.
The reality is that Garcia is not great on the greens, hence the belly-putter. He missed mostly on the high side, indicating a flaw in his aim or stroke more than buzzard's luck, but when he was asked afterward about hitting the flagstick of the par-3 16th hole in the playoff, he couldn't hold back.