Little-Known Romero Almost Crashes Party

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CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- Andres Romero had the British Open right in his grasp after an amazing stretch of golf. Then, suddenly overwhelmed at seeing his name atop the leaderboard, he did a Van de Velde.
 
The only difference: Romero threw away the claret jug at the 17th hole.
 
The 26-year-old Argentine was the improbable leader at Carnoustie with two holes to play, looking invincible after a run of six birdies in seven holes. But leading a major can do strange things to the mind, especially when you're a golfer with no big wins.
 
'I feel very pleased, but the pressure suddenly caught up with me, especially the pressure at the last two holes in such a big event,' Romero said through an interpreter.
 
His troubles began when he drove into the rough at the 17th and wavered between which club to use. Finally deciding on a 2-iron, he hit a sharp hook that dove into the wall of the Barry Burn, which sent the ball ricocheting straight right toward the 18th fairway.
 
The ball stayed dry, but it sailed past the out-of-bounds line between the two closing holes. Romero had to take a drop and switched to a 3-wood to reach the green. He missed the putt and staggered off with a double bogey, his lead suddenly gone, a weak smile about all he could manage.
 
'I hit a very bad second shot at the 17th,' Romero said, 'but I also had a lot of very bad luck.'
 
About the same time, Padraig Harrington made an eagle at 14 and Sergio Garcia knocked in a birdie at 13. Romero went from first to third just like that.
 
Making matters worse, he botched the 18th by missing the green with a short iron. Romero's arms seemed to get even shorter when a weak chip came up 12 feet short of the flag. The par-saving putt lipped out; the bogey, as it turned out, kept him from making it a three-way playoff with Harrington and Garcia.
 
Harrington made a double bogey at No. 18 -- hitting two shots into the burn -- and Garcia followed him in with a bogey. Those two went to extra holes at 7-under 277, with Harrington claiming his first major title.
 
Romero settled for third at 278.
 
Too bad. The young Argentine hit more good shots than anyone on the course Sunday, finishing with 10 birdies in all. In addition to sinking putts from up to 25 feet, he holed out from a bunker at No. 11.
 
But his mistakes were devastating, such as the approach on No. 12 that wound up in a gorse bush and led to his first double bogey. Then came 17, a reminder of Jean Van de Velde's series of blunders at the 72nd hole when the Open was last played at Carnoustie.
 
Romero laughed at the comparisons to Van de Velde, who went wading in the Barry Burn while squandering a three-stroke lead on the 72nd hole at the '99 Open. At least the Frenchman got into the playoff, losing to Paul Lawrie.
 
'I did it at 17, not 18,' Romero said. 'But I could be put into that category by some. I certainly wasn't thinking about Jean Van de Velde at that moment. I was very concentrated and what happened happened. Unfortunately, it ended with a double bogey and a bogey.'
 
Romero never considered laying up out of the rough at 17, saying it wasn't thick enough to keep him from reaching the green. Club selection was his major concern.
 
'I was aware I was leading,' Romero said. 'I hit a 2-iron. I was not certain it was the club I should play and perhaps it was my mistake. I was doubting between and wood and an iron. The second time I used the right club.'
 
It was a mistake he'll long regret.
 
'I was thinking of hitting the 3-wood. I should have hit the 3-wood, stuck with my original thought,' Romero said. 'I didn't. That was the result.'
 
He missed a chance to give Argentina its second straight win in the majors. Last month, Angel Cabrera won the U.S. Open at Oakmont.
 
Romero, who has a victory on the second tier European Challenge Tour to go with three wins in his homeland, is still seeking his first victory on the European Tour. Despite that rather thin resume, he didn't feel out of his element among the Open's leading contenders.
 
'I am happy. The best players in the world are here and I played with the No. 2 in the world (Jim Furyk),' Romero said. 'I felt very comfortable playing with him and I felt I belonged here.'
 
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