Lets play a silly little game for a moment. Pretend that Saturday never existed. Throw out Woods 81. Pretend that the variables of Sunday never followed the realities of Saturday ' and granted, that is a king-sized stretch of the imagination. But imagine it anyway, and do you know who would have been in the playoff?
None of the four who competed in the actual Sunday playoff. In our fantasy game, Tiger Woods would have played Padraig Harrington. Both would have had 54-hole scores of 10-under-par. Shigeki Maruyama would have just missed with a score of 9-under. Ernie Els, the eventual 2002 British Open champion, would have recorded 8-under, tying him with Duffy Waldorf.
And speculation of the calendar Grand Slam would still have been a distinct possibility. Harrington is a wonderful golfer with unlimited possibilities, but in a four-hole playoff ' especially in THOSE four holes ' youve got to like Tiger.
If Tiger had only shot 74 instead of 81, he would have been in the real-time playoff. If he had just shot 73 ' 2-over-par, he would have won outright. If, if, if
Woods, of course, played in the absolute worst of Muirfields Saturday trifecta of atrocious weather ' gales, cold, and pelting rain. He wasnt the only one ' Els played in it, too, and he fared far better. A 72 that seemed like a 62 in those conditions was what won it. Woods couldnt survive a Saturday score of 10-over-par, and his 10-under the other three rounds was just so much window dressing.
A lot of people say thats a shame. I say its wonderfully apropos, making the British Open again the most quirky major of them all. Check it out since in the recent tournaments 1990 ' theres something in there for everyone in this musty old championship.
In 1989, Mark Calcavecchia won when his approach shot at 17 caromed off a bank and, miraculously, came back onto the green. In the playoff, he beat Greg Norman and Wayne Grady. Norman seemingly had it won before he decided to chip from just off the green instead of putt. He made bogey there, and then blew it completely on the final hole when he selected driver instead of a fairway wood.
In 1992, John Cook had a two-shot lead with four two play, but Nick Faldo won with perhaps the best four holes of his career.
Who could forget Jesper Parnevik in 1994? He went into the 18th hole with a one-stroke lead, but he hadnt bothered to look in on the leaderboard. Consequently, Nick Price snuck in with a long eagle putt back on the 17th while Jesper made bogey up ahead on 18, thanks to an overly aggressive play by Parnevick.
How about 1995? John Daly won in a playoff, but not before Costantino Rocca holed a putt at the Valley of Sin at St. Andrews on the 72nd ' this after Rocca had made a mess of the previous shot. Mark OMeara in 1998 was 62nd at the halfway point, thought he had lost a ball the third round, and he had to go into extra holes to defeat Brian Watts ' who made one of the all-time great bunker shots to send it into the four-hole overtime.
Frenchman Jean Van de Velde did his macho thing in 1999, coming unraveled on the 72nd hole with a triple bogey and allowing Paul Lawrie to sneak in at pitifully prepared Carnoustie. Lawrie beat Van de Velde and Justin Leonard in a playoff.
David Duval lost the 2000 Open when he couldnt negotiate the road hole bunker at St. Andrews, slipping out of sight when Woods won. Last year Duval rebounded to play flawlessly, of course, and pick up this championship. Who was second? Niclas Fasth ' dont you remember?
Which brings us to this years oddity, capped by Saturdays horrific weather and Sundays four-man playoff ' which was played two-by-two, a weird one to be sure. In this one, there was another Frenchman ' Thomas Levet instead of Van de Velde ' and two Aussies, Stuart Appleby and Steve Elkington instead of Norman and Grady. Of course, none of the three won.
OK, so it was really weird. But it was the British Open. That should be nuff said. Anyone can win, and just as importantly, anyone can lose. The oldest Open is also the most wacky. Stiff upper lip, old chap! It is, dare we say, the most British?