GULLANE, Scotland — 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 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes and losing by one shot to Ernie Els.
“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.
Not everyone is so fortunate.
Here are five examples of heartbreaking 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 backhand 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 then made bogey on the next hole, clearly rattled. Irwin wound up with a 72, four shots behind Watson.
He made a beautiful charge Sunday with a 67, but Watson went on to win his fifth Open title by a single stroke over Irwin and Andy Bean. Irwin couldn’t help but have a sinking feeling that he paid a huge price Sunday for giving away that stroke on Saturday.
4. BJORN’S BUNKER
With an All-Star cast of contenders at the 2003 Open at Royal St. George’s, Thomas Bjorn played beautifully and built a two-shot lead with three holes to play in the final round. 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.
3. SHARK IN THE SAND
Greg Norman had his share of bad luck at majors. Bob Tway holed a bunker shot on the 72nd hole to beat him at the ’86 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 the final round of the 1989 British Open at Royal Troon, where “The Shark” suffered yet another nightmare.
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, and Calcavecchia was the Open champion.
Asked if destiny owed him one, Norman replied, “It owes me about four.”
2. JACKLIN AT MUIRFIELD
The ’72 Open at Muirfield was a duel between Lee Trevino and Tony Jacklin, who 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.
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 18th as Trevino repeated as the Open champion.
“It knocked the stuff out of me as far as major championships went,” said Jacklin, who never contended in another one.
1. 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 layout reputed to be the toughest links course 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 (creek), 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.”