Padraig Harrington finally learned the lesson of Carnoustie, surviving a calamitous finish in regulation and a tense bogey putt in the playoff to win the British Open on Sunday.
In a final round that stirred memories of Jean Van de Velde’s collapse eight years ago, Harrington lost a one-shot lead on the 72nd hole by hitting into the Barry Burn twice for a double bogey, only to get another chance when Sergio Garcia couldn’t make par from a bunker.
Staked to a two-shot lead in the four-hole playoff with the Spaniard, Harrington played it safe the second time around on the 18th.
He hit iron off the tee, and another one to stay short of the burn. But a gutsy play by Garcia, who smoked a 6-iron from 203 yards out of the rough to birdie range, forced Harrington to make a nervy 3-footer to become the first Irishman in 60 years to win the claret jug.
Harrington thrust his fists in the air, a survivor as much as a champion, and before long he was waving the Irish flag and doing his best to stop the tears.
“I think if I had lost, it would have been hard to take it,” Harrington said. “But because I had a chance, I didn’t let myself get down about taking a 6. I convinced myself if there was a playoff, I would do the best in it.”
It was a devastating loss for Garcia, who had a three-shot lead going into the final round and was poised to win a major championship he has been chasing since he was a teenager.
He was 10 feet away from winning, and his par putt on the 18th hole in regulation looked good all the way until it dipped slightly on the left side and spun out. Harrington, who closed with a 4-under 67 to make up a six-shot deficit, played the four playoff holes in even par, seizing control with a 7-iron into 8 feet for birdie on the first hole as Garcia made bogey from a bunker.
A rainbow stretched over the course by the North Sea, capping another magical day on perhaps the toughest links in golf. Like the last Open at Carnoustie, there was chaos in the end. Only this time, it involved more than one player.
Meanwhile, Tiger Woods’s dream of a third consecutive British Open victory was sunk in the wet of Carnoustie when he finished five behind playoff combatants Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington.
The world No. 1 was aiming to become the first man since Australian Peter Thomson in 1956 to win three claret jugs in a row. But he never threatened and closed on two-under 282 after a final-round 70.
“It would have been nice if I had hit the ball a little better and just given myself a chance,” Woods said.
“I feel like I putted beautifully all week but I couldn’t get them close enough ... and subsequently I was on the periphery of trying to win a championship. If I had posted six or seven under today I would have been right there in the mix.”