You see the
European Ryder Cup team celebrating another victory--whether it's in Ireland or
England or Spain or the United States--and the boys always look like one big
happy family, right? There's Sergio Garc�a of Spain, singing from a balcony,
waving a flag, his arm around one of his mates. There's Padraig Harrington of
Ireland taking a swig from a magnum of Mo�t, then passing the dark-green bottle
down the line. � Those chummy Euros. And then came Sunday night at the links of
Carnoustie, another Scottish muni that is bleak and severe and oddly inviting,
just like the old one in St. Andrews. That's when Harrington, 35, and Garc�a,
27--tied at seven-under-par 277 at the end of regulation--played a four-hole
playoff for the most important title in the global village of golf: Open
When Garc�a and
Harrington gathered on the 1st tee for the playoff, each man looking to win his
first major, they exchanged a quick and meager handshake. If there was peace,
love and understanding on that tee, you couldn't feel it.
About 40 minutes
after the playoff began, the two protagonists were on the 18th tee for the
final hole, Harrington up by two shots. As the Dubliner stood over his tee
shot, he saw Garc�a standing almost on the right tee marker. Crowding the
player is a classic Ryder Cup move. Harrington, tense but composed, asked
Garc�a for some space. Playing like the accountant he once studied to be, he
then proceeded to turn the 499-yard par-4 into a three-shotter and with a
closing bogey won the playoff, and the championship, by a stroke.
At the awards
ceremony afterward, Harrington, a man with a goofy smile and an endearing
earnestness, did not praise Garc�a for his sustained and excellent play--the
Spaniard led after each of the first three rounds and took a three-shot edge
into Sunday. The Irishman, who began the final round trailing by six, simply
said Garc�a's day would come.
"He's a young
lad," said Harrington, the first Irish winner of the Open since Fred Daly
in 1947. The subdued crowd--Sunday on the Angus coast was cool and gray, and
few of the menfolk had been drinking--laughed benignly.
lifted the claret jug--and as his wife of 10 years, Caroline, chased their
three-year-old son, Patrick, across the 18th green--the reputations of two men
rose with it. Harrington, of course, will be looked at with newfound respect,
but the other man looking better is the Frenchman Jean Van de Velde, who
screwed up so royally at Carnoustie in 1999. It's not just that we now really
understand the curse of Carnoustie's home hole (Life of Reilly, page 70), but
we also can now fully appreciate the Gallic charm and poise with which Van de
Velde handled his collapse. Garc�a blamed his bogey finish at the 72nd hole on
bad luck, slow play and a greater plan. ("It wasn't meant to be," he
said.) Eight years ago Van de Velde, who is not playing now because of an
undisclosed illness, told reporters, "Don't look so sad." On Sunday
night Garc�a sarcastically told the throng, "I'm thrilled." His pain
was perhaps understandable. He had been a king for three days.
Phil Mickelson used
to have the damn-me-with-faint-praise title as the best golfer never to have
won a major, and then he went on a Tigeresque tear, winning three majors in two
years. (He missed the cut at Carnoustie, and don't be surprised if he shuts
down his season after the PGA Championship next month, skipping the Presidents
Cup and all the season-ending FedEx Cup events to fully rest his strained left
wrist.) Going into the playoff, Harrington and Garc�a were trying to rid
themselves of their claims to the title. Now it's a two-man race, and Colin
Montgomerie, 44, probably will never get one of the game's four grand prizes.
For Sergio, it's harder to know.
Garc�a is a
formidable talent, but he's already been through a mild form of the putting
disease known as the yips (last week he used a belly putter) and another
golfing mental disorder, the regrips (in which you can't begin the backswing).
He's not a gifted putter. Of the four majors, the British suits him best
because the greens are flatter and slower than at the other majors. Harrington,
really, is in another league. He has the game, and the head, to win any of
They came to the
money game differently. Garc�a, after a vaunted amateur career, turned pro at
18, and within a few months he had won the Irish Open and nearly won the PGA
Championship. Harrington turned pro at 24, after earning his accounting degree.
"My goal was to be a journeyman," he said on Sunday night. "I
thought I could make a living at the game." He has succeeded, and then
Sergio began the
playoff bewildered that his 10-footer to win on the 72nd had slid by the hole
and irritated by longish waits as he played his final holes. Harrington began
the playoff relieved to be in it. He had butchered the 72nd hole, hitting two
balls in the water en route to a double bogey, but he was still breathing.