As Els knocked his eagle approach a foot past the 15th hole, Lehman walked to the 12th green, still birdieless, still without once having had the honors. And that's when Lehman finally made a putt, a 13-footer for birdie on the par-3 12th that let him hold on to a two-shot lead and put some actual air in his lungs. Couples came apart then, putting his 30 on the front together with a 41 on the back for an even-par 71 and no effect. And when Els drove into one of the approximately four million pot bunkers at Lytham to bogey 16, it was all Lehman's to lose.
He nearly did.
He three-putted the 14th for a bogey and then on 15 knocked his approach into a greenside bunker that you could not fit a good-sized cat into. Lehman had to stand with one foot outside the bunker and hit, but somehow he swept his ball out so sweetly and softly that it stopped six feet from the hole, and he drained it, maybe the biggest putt of his life. That allowed him to bogey 17 and still play the 18th sweatlessly, driving into the left rough, knocking it 35 feet from the pin with a pretty eight-iron and needing only to two-putt from three feet to win $310,000. "I lagged it," he said. It went in anyway, and he pulled up a chair at the table of champions.
This will be the kind of win that is popular in the locker room, the press room and the caddie room. It is hard not to like a guy who starts his British Open acceptance speech in front of 30,000 fans surrounding the 18th green with a whopping, "Wow!"
Afterward, Lehman was cradling the winner's claret jug and remembering a Nowhere Tour event in Wichita, Kans.: He drove more than 800 miles, won the tournament and a check that barely covered his month's expenses, and was handed a pewter cup that broke in his trunk by the next fill-up. He looked at his newest trinket and nearly cried. "They'll never take this thing away from me."
First rule of the rose gardener: The thorns always come before the blooms.