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Close but no cigarESPN staff July 20, 2012
As the 2012 iteration of The Open heads for the weekend, we take a look at some of the most agonising near-misses over the years...
Jean van de Velde
A "nightmare" was how Van de Velde described his final-hole meltdown at the 1999 Open at Carnoustie, but sadly for the Frenchman he didn't wake up to find his choke was only a bad dream. Needing a double-bogey six at the last to win, Van de Velde, ranked 152 in the world, elected to unleash the driver off the tee, a decision he quickly rued as he saw it run through the fairway and into the rough. Instead of laying up, the Frenchman took a two-iron and skewed it right off a side-line grandstand. The ball ricocheted into knee-high reeds and, when his club got tangled in the thick stuff on his downswing his ball flew into the Barry Burn. Off came the socks and shoes but upon further examination he decided to drop and he duffed his fifth shot into the greenside bunker. He needed to hole the bunker shot but missed, before sinking a triple-bogey seven to force a three-way play-off with Paul Lawrie and Jason Leonard, with Lawrie ultimately prevailing.
Tiger Woods was the last man standing to deny Montgomerie his dream of winning a first Open title at St Andrews in 2005. Despite being roared on by the packed galleries, the Scot couldn't overhaul the American as Woods sauntered to a five-shot winning margin. After a bright start to his final round, Montgomerie's challenge started to fade when he failed to save par at the short 11th. Woods gave the home favourite hope with a wobble at the 10th but, with Monty bogeying the 13th and Woods capitalising by picking up a shot at 12, those hopes soon evaporated. A nine-under total, having signed for a closing 72, was not enough for the Scot and, after a fourth runner-up finish at a major, he said: "I will take positives from this. I am back in the position I was in the 90s. Things were not going well and it's nice to be back in this theatre. It's never a disgrace to lose to the best player of our generation by far."
World No. 3 Westwood continues to knock on the door, and it may finally open in his 58th major. To date, Westwood is a perennial contender but nothing more - the Englishman finishing second at a major twice and third on five occasions in the last four and a bit years. Two of those near-misses have occurred at the Open Championship - he's placed second and third in two of the last three. He spurned a glorious chance to break his major duck at Turnberry in 2009 when, having led by two strokes after nine holes on the final day, he three-putted the last to finish a stroke behind Stewart Cink (who needed a play-off to beat Tom Watson). The Worksop man was by now getting used to his role of wearing a fake smile and clapping the winner as he collected his trophy, and he got to perfect his act at St Andrews the following year when he finished a distant second behind Louis Oosthuizen.
It may be five years since Garcia agonisingly missed out on landing a first major, but the pain of that missed 10-foot putt at Carnoustie for glory will have been felt all over again when he teed it up in Lancashire. Things were looking so good for the Spaniard: he held the lead after each of the first three rounds and started the final day with a healthy three-shot advantage over closest challenger Steve Stricker. Early nerves were soon settled when he extended his lead to four strokes, seemingly signalling this precocious talent was about to realise his potential. However, a string of errors saw his cushion eroded, and he was left needing a par at the 72nd hole to walk off the course an Open champion. After escaping from a greenside bunker he was left with a 10-footer, but his effort lipped out and he eventually lost to Padraig Harrington in a four-hole aggregate play-off.
If you want to stay on the right side of Woosnam then it is best not to mention the 2001 Open. While a reference of the 1986 tournament - where Woosnam shared third place - may cause him to swallow hard, any comment about the events that unfolded 15 years later at Royal Lytham & St Annes is likely to lead to a more animated response from the Welshman. An extra driver was discovered in his bag on the second tee just after he had birdied the first on the final round to go back into the joint lead. Realising the error, caddie Miles Byrne shared the bad news with Woosnam, who proceeded to toss his extra club away in disgust. The error led to a two-stroke penalty, with Woosnam finishing three shots behind winner David Duval. After the incident, Woosnam said he wouldn't fire his bagman for carrying 15 clubs and not the permitted 14 - however, two weeks later Byrne was sacked when he failed to turn up for tee-time after a heavy night on the sauce.
As Rocca headed to the final hole of the Old Course at St Andrews in 1995, the Italian was one shot behind John Daly, who was already in the clubhouse waiting to see if he had done enough for victory. A booming drive left Rocca yards from the green but a fluffed chip saw his ball roll into the "valley of sin". Needing to hole his third shot, Rocca sent his 65-foot putt on its way and sunk to his knees as he watched his birdie-effort find the cup. He pounded the turf in celebration as the on-looking Daly held his head in his hands. Daly went on to win his first Open Championship and second major in the play-off, but Rocca's heroics will not be forgotten.
Having tied for second in 1966, Sanders looked a certainty to go one better at The Open four years later. Sanders had spent much of the fourth round at St Andrews holding off Jack Nicklaus for the lead. He managed to manoeuvre himself into an enviable position where he seemingly could not lose, and yet he somehow took four shots from 74 yards as the nerves took hold. Standing three-feet from glory, Sanders drew gasps from the crowd as his hurried stab missed its target and Nicklaus returned the following day to win the play-off by a stroke.
The agonies suffered by Watson at Turnberry in 2009 will live long in the memory. The American has won the Open Championship on five occasions, the last of which was celebrated in 1983, but surely none would have matched a fairy-tale finish three years ago had he picked up a sixth Claret Jug at the age of 59. Watson led in every round, and began the final day with a one-shot lead and a three-shot advantage over Stewart Cink, the eventual winner. The eight-time major champion appeared drained by his herculean efforts as the finish line moved into view and, needing a par at the last to triumph, he made bogey and was forced into a four-hole play-off, which Cink won by six shots. Watson, who would have become the oldest ever major winner had he beaten Cink, said: "Overall I played well but it was a disappointment," he said. "I could have done better on the last hole and the wheels came off in the play-off. In my profession when you have a chance to win the World Open as I call it, and you give it away as I did, it is a big disappointment."
Bjorn finished in a tie for second place with Ernie Els at the 2000 Open at St Andrews, the pair ending the week eight shots adrift of Tiger Woods, who won on 19-under-par - the lowest ever score at St Andrews. He may not have been in with a sniff 12 years ago, but the same could not be said when he went in search of glory in 2003. He was in the lead with four holes to play at Royal St George's in Sandwich, but a late wobble proved catastrophic. Leading by two shots with three to play, the Dane needed three attempts to play out of a greenside bunker on the 16th hole. His nightmare in the sand left Ben Curtis, who had dropped four shots in six holes during Sunday's enthralling climax, to win by a shot, with Vijay Singh finishing alongside Bjorn. "I stood on the 15th tee with one hand on that trophy, and I let it go," Bjorn admitted.
Lu, or 'Mr Lu' as he became known by British golf fans, became something of a cult figure after his exploits at the 1971 Open. Sporting an outlandish porkpie hat, Mr Lu was one behind Lee Trevino going up the last at Royal Birkdale when he hooked his second shot and hit Lillian Tipping on the head. His ball cannoned back onto the fairway as Mrs Tipping dropped to the floor. Although it was a lucky break, Mr Lu was upset by what had happened but he was soon given orders by the woman whom he struck, who said: "Mr Lu, get another birdie for me." He did but it wasn't enough, Trevino doing likewise to win by a single stroke.