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Crash & Burn
July 30, 2007
Andr�s Romero's wild, 10-birdie ride on Sunday took him to the top of the leader board, but ended with a dispiriting collapse
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July 30, 2007

Crash & Burn

Andr�s Romero's wild, 10-birdie ride on Sunday took him to the top of the leader board, but ended with a dispiriting collapse

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The man who played best during the amazing and tumultuous final round of the British Open was not proclaimed the Champion Golfer of the Year at the awards ceremony. He wasn't even in the dramatic playoff between eventual winner Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garc�a. � No, the golfer who played best, Andr�s Romero, left Carnoustie simply as the Man Who Should've Won the Open. A raw but talented 25-year-old from Yerba Buena in northwest Argentina, Romero finished third, a shot out of the playoff, even though he tore apart Carnoustie with a championship-best 10 birdies during a four-under 67 that, unfortunately, also included a pair of double bogeys, the most damaging of which occurred on the 71st hole when he held a two-shot lead. "Andr�s played very well right from the start," said Jim Furyk, Romero's playing partner on Sunday. "Obviously, he played super. I feel badly for the finish, but he should be proud."

Romero, whose nickname is Pigu ("which, as I'm often asked, does not mean anything," he says), was a member of a small cast of disappointed contenders who beat themselves. Steve Stricker, playing in the final group with Garc�a, was betrayed by his putter in the final round, just as he had been at the U.S.�Open, following a Saturday 64 with a 74 to tie for eighth. Ernie Els, who missed greens and putts in a very un-Ernie-like manner down the stretch, wound up with a 69, placing him two strokes out of the playoff and in a tie for fourth. Stewart Cink, who had quietly played his way into contention, bogeyed three of the last 10 holes to finish with a 70 and a shot behind Els, in a tie for sixth.

Romero, though, was the only one of the group to actually wrest the lead from Harrington and Garc�a. The Argentine, who turned pro in 1998 and has won three times in South and Central America and once on Europe's Challenge tour, made four birdies on the front side, including virtual tap-ins after stiffing iron shots at the 3rd and 4th holes. After a bogey at the 9th he sank a 25-footer for birdie at the difficult 10th. He was in trouble at the 11th, in a bad lie in a greenside pot bunker, but holed out for an unexpected birdie to get within a shot of the lead at seven under.

Romero was not as fortunate at the par-4 12th, where he pushed his two-iron approach into a huge gorse bush and had to take an unplayable lie. He was forced to drop about 75 yards from the green and play a blind wedge shot over the gorse and wound up making a two-putt double bogey. Romero responded with four straight birdies, holing putts from 12, 15, 15 and 16 feet. Suddenly, he led the Open by two shots with two holes to play, and that's when his round turned Jean Van de Veldeian. "I was aware I was leading," Romero said. "The pressure certainly caught up with me."

He pushed his tee shot at the par-4 17th into a poor lie in the right rough. Even though the Barry Burn winds across the fairway, Romero went for the green with a two-iron. The deep grass grabbed the club, turned it over and sent the ball in a low line drive to the left. It appeared headed for the burn, which would've been bad enough. What happened was worse. Romero's ball caromed off the steps in the wall of the burn, flew 50 yards left and rolled beyond the out-of-bounds fence adjacent to the 18th hole.

"I hit a very bad second shot on 17," Romero said, "but I also had very bad luck." He switched to a three-wood for his fourth shot, knocked it on the green to 25 feet and two-putted for a double bogey. The two-iron was a terrible decision. With the lead in a major and four tough finishing holes practically guaranteed to make everyone else drop at least a shot on the way in, the smart play was to chip back to the fairway, hit onto the green and leave himself a par-saving putt. Instead Romero went to the Phil Mickelson playbook.

"I never considered playing safe," Romero said. "The lie wasn't bad enough for me to make that decision. I thought I had a chance to get it on the green. I wasn't certain of what club to play, and perhaps that was my mistake. The second time around I did it the way I should have, with the three-wood. I hit the right club."

While Romero was making his double, Harrington was eagling the 14th to go to nine under and produce a four-shot swing. Romero went to the 18th tee trailing by two and bombed a perfect drive down the middle. He hit an eight-iron from 190 yards but pulled it one bounce from another out-of-bounds fence. A weak chip and a missed 12-foot putt resulted in the bogey that would keep him out of the playoff. But at the time that mistake didn't loom so large because he was three shots back.

"I feel very pleased," Romero said after signing his scorecard. "The best players in the world are here, and I played with the Number 3 player in the world today. I felt comfortable playing with him and felt I belonged. No disappointment at all."

He surely changed his mind later when Harrington had a Van de Velde moment of his own. Romero's not-so-bad mistake was actually a classic Jean-sized blunder that may have cost him the Open.

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