SOUTHPORT, England ' Take this as either a consolation prize or more torment. Greg Norman has an offer to return to the Masters, which invites the top four players and ties from the British Open.
Time out, Norman said Sunday, motioning with his hands. Ive got a lot of water to go over the dam to get to that.
Norman last played the Masters in 2002 when he received a special foreign exemption and tied for 36th, and there was no guarantee he would show up next April. Despite his remarkable performance at Royal Birkdale, the 53-year-old Norman said it did not inspire him to start playing more golf.
He will be at Royal Troon next week for the Senior British Open, then the Broadmoor in Colorado for the U.S. Senior Open, and he has no plans anywhere else the rest of the year.
The coveted invitations might mean more to Ian Poulter, who finished second, and Henrik Stenson, who tied for third, although both are high enough in the top 50 that they might have gotten in, anyway.
Chris Wood, the 20-year-old amateur from England, bogeyed the final hole, and that cost him. A par would have given him a tie for third and a ticket to the Masters.
The top 15 are guaranteed a trip to Turnberry for the British Open, so at least Wood wont have to go through qualifying.
The British Open exempts the top 15, although that didnt affect too many players. David Howell of England, whose 67 was the best score of the final round, was exempt this year from winning the BMW PGA Championship in 2005. That exemption expires this year.
For the second year in a row, K.J. Choi played in the final group on a weekend at the British Open.
That first major title will have to wait.
Choi was the 36-hole leader at the British Open, and the South Korean was still right in the thick of things going to Sundays final round two strokes off the lead.
But Choi had a miserable time on the greens, missing numerous short putts and closing with a quadruple-bogey 8 on the final hole for a closing-round 79 that dropped him all the way to 16th place.
I had no feel for my putting, said Choi, blaming his woes on the blustery conditions. I learned a lot this week. Im not disappointed.
A year ago at Carnoustie, he also played in the final group on Saturday but faded to a tie for eighth. Choi is the winningest Asian player in PGA Tour history, and hes not giving up on capturing one of golfs biggest events.
I feel Im getting close to winning a major, Choi said. Im not really that far away.
With a cool breeze gusting off the Irish Sea, most players went with a couple of layers of clothing'or at least a long-sleeve shirt.
Not Padraig Harrington.
The Open champion teed off in a navy sweater, but he shed it on the way to the second hole. Harrington played the rest of the round in short sleeves'even when the wind really started howling.
I did think it was cold today, but I was comfortable swinging in a shirt and I did not want to change any feeling that I had, he said. I definitely did need to put a sweater on. It was cold at times, but you never change anything when its working OK. I was going to stick with what I had. It was going nicely.
RYDER CUP UPDATE
Steve Stricker made the most out of narrowly making the cut.
Stricker, who was 11th in the Ryder Cup standings, went 71-73 on the weekend and tied for seventh. That was worth 387 points, and moved him up to No. 9. The top nine after the PGA Championship in two weeks qualify for the team because Tiger Woods is not playing.
Jim Furyk earned 719 points for his tie for fifth, moving him closer to clinching a spot at No. 5.
Phil Mickelson was merely an afterthought at Royal Birkdale, a strange sensation considering he is the No. 2 player in the world and the highest-ranked player at this major.
Then again, this is the British Open, where he rarely contends.
This week was no exception. Mickelson birdied two of his last four holes to close with a 71, putting him at 14-over for the week. His only success was a 68 in the second round to make the cut. He tied for 19th, one week after he tied for 38th in the Scottish Open.
I didnt play to the level I would have liked, Mickelson said. I thought I hit a lot of good shots, but I really struggled on the greens and consequently, my score wasnt what I would have liked.
Mickelson didnt blame the wind, the strongest he has ever faced over four successive days. He felt this week was as good as he has hit the ball in such blustery conditions.
But all his comments were directed at the putting, which could put pressure on short-game coach Dave Pelz.
When I had a couple of good putting weeks, like at Colonial and L.A., I ended up winning, Mickelson said. But I havent putted at that level week in and week out, and Ill have to work on that.
EASY DOES IT
Ernie Els had two rounds under par at Royal Birkdale and tied for seventh. But thats about all the Big Easy can take out of the week.
Els took himself out of the tournament on the back nine of the opening round, which he played in 9-over 45 for an 80.
How do you come back from that? he said Sunday after closing with a 69. Then it was just a battle out there to try and get into the top 10, the top 20. Its been a tough week, but at least I played the four rounds and gave it my best shot.
Like Mickelson, Els biggest concern is his putter. He is trying to move back to his old routine and saw some progress Sunday. Next up for Els is a trip to Las Vegas to meet with swing coach Butch Harmon with hopes of ending an 0-for-23 drought in the majors, the longest of his career.
Sergio Garcia thought this might be his best chance to win a major considering that he lost in a playoff last year at Carnoustie and played in the final group the year before.
Instead, he closed with a 78 and tied for 51st, the worst finish of his career when he completes four rounds at the British Open.
Garcia shot 44 on the back nine, with consecutive double bogeys.
Whatever chances I had today, I threw them away on the back nine, Garcia said. I just went brain dead. My body just didnt react to my thoughts. I couldnt think straight and didnt make any good decisions.