Tiger Woods knew it as he stalked the fairways over the final holes. So did a couple of other guys with major championship credentials.
In the grandstands, the massive crowds sensed something historic in the making. On the edge of their seats, they were ready to erupt at any sign of a move by players who had been there before.
For the lack of a few simple pars, it never came.
And the contenders who would be king left Royal St. George's with their heads down, trying to figure out how this one could have slipped away.
'I had my chances and I blew it,' Vijay Singh said. 'There's no excuse for that.'
He wasn't alone.
The greatest player in the world needed only to par his last four holes to get in a playoff. Surely, Woods would be hoisting his second claret jug on the 18th green.
He didn't come close, bogeying two of the last four to stretch his major championship winless streak to five.
'I just didn't make some good swings when I needed to,' Woods said.
And what about Davis Love III? Wasn't he playing in the final group and heading for the relatively easy par-5 14th with a chance to tie for the lead?
He was, until he made par on the hole and a bogey on the 17th to finish tied with Woods two shots back.
'If I'd putted well I would have won. If I'd hit a few more good shots I would have won,' Love said. 'Thomas, Tiger and Vijay are all saying the same thing, so it's unfortunate but I gave it my all.'
The biggest surprise in one of the most surprising Opens may not have been Ben Curtis hanging on to win by a shot over Singh and Bjorn. It may have been that three players with 11 major titles between them couldn't even play par golf on the finishing holes.
'Probably that's where Ben sneaked in,' Singh said. 'Everybody was talking about Tiger, Love and Bjorn. Ben just played his round and got away with it.'
Curtis, a 500-1 longshot playing in his first major championship, predictably bogeyed four of the last seven holes to give everyone a chance. Bjorn was ready to take it until he had one too many misadventures in the sand on the 16th hole.
Woods, Singh and Love didn't need to make a string of birdies to win. They just needed to keep from giving shots away.
Shockingly, they couldn't.
'It was sad actually because I thought I was playing real well,' Singh said. 'Coming down the stretch you can't make any bogeys.'
Singh made his on the 16th hole, a relatively benign 163-yard par 3 where all the trouble is in the bunkers surrounding the green. Singh was 1-under-par at the time and needed only to par out to get into a playoff.
He put his tee shot in one of the bunkers, though, couldn't get up-and-down and then couldn't birdie either of the final two holes. When his chip shot on the 18th hole slid by, his chance to add this to his PGA Championship and Masters titles was over.
'I came over here to win it,' Singh said. 'I felt I had the game to win it, especially when I started off today. But maybe next year.'
Woods barely tried to hide his disappointment. He got to 2-under after seven holes and seemed ready to take command, but played the last 11 holes 3-over. Bogeys on the 15th and 17th holes sealed his fate.
Woods wasn't happy that on the 12th hole Open officials put his group on notice to speed up play, hinting that it may have affected his concentration on missed putts on 13, 15 and 17.
'When you're on the clock you're not in your normal rhythm, that's for sure,' he said.
Woods has eight major championships, but his 2000 win at St. Andrews was his only British Open title. He now hasn't won a major title since last year's U.S. Open.
'It's never been easy,' he said. 'You've got to have things go your way in order to win. The times I have won I've had some great breaks go my way. This week I got my share of good breaks but I got my share of bad breaks, too.'
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