HOYLAKE, England— Major championship can turn on a single shot, good (winner) or bad (loser).
The British Open is no exception.
Every now and again, golf’s oldest major championship is remembered as much for the bad shots as the good ones. And the glory of golf is that there are no second chances. The term “mulligan” began in America, but it can be applied to any championship.
Here are five players in the British Open who wish they could have had one.
5. THE WHIFF
Hale Irwin was going along nicely in the 1983 British Open at Royal Birkdale. He was 6-under for the tournament and had a 12-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole of the third round that he narrowly missed. Irwin reached over to tap in the 2-inch putt when he whiffed.
The putter hit the ground and went over the ball. Irwin was so stunned that he knocked in the next one, retrieved it from the hole and fumbled the ball onto the green. And he was even more shook up by the end of the week.
He finished one shot behind Tom Watson. Give him that shot back and he likely is in a playoff.
Irwin closed with a 67, though it became clear it would not be enough. After speaking to reporters after his round, and with Watson having struck a 2-iron onto the 18th green that all but secured the Open title, Irwin said, “Now I get to go see Watson two-putt this thing and make me cry.”
4. WHEN BIRDIE BECOMES BOGEY
Tony Jacklin looked like a winner on the 71st hole of the 1972 British Open at Muirfield.
Jack Nicklaus made his charge and closed with a 66, though by now it was clear he would come up short. Jacklin and Lee Trevino were tied for the lead, with a big advantage to Jacklin. The Englishman was just short of the green in two on the par-5 17th. Trevino had made a mess of it and was over the green in four shots.
Jacklin could have used a mulligan on either of his next two shots. His chip was so weak that it settled some 20 feet short of the hole. His putt was so strong that he wound up with a three-putt bogey. Trevino chipped in for par to take the most unlikely lead, and Jacklin was so rattled that he bogeyed the last.
Jacklin never again had a top 10 in the British Open.
3. BUNKER MENTALITY
Overlooked about Thomas Bjorn in the 2003 British Open is that he was penalized because of a poor bunker shot — in the first round. The Dane left his shot in the sand on the 17th hole and as he always does after a bad shot, slapped at the sand. Except he was still in the bunker, and thus received a two-shot penalty, making a quadruple bogey.
What cost him the claret jug was three sand shots on Sunday — from the same bunker.
He had a two-shot lead with three holes to play when his tee shot on the par-3 16th rolled into the bunker. His first shot didn’t carry far enough and rolled back into the sand. His next shot did the same. Bjorn got out on the third shot and made double bogey. He took bogey on the 17th to fall one shot behind, and he wound up one shot behind Ben Curtis, an American playing in his first major.
2. THE PUTT
For all his colorful clothes, Doug Sanders is best remembered for a simple putt he would love to have back. It would have made him a major champion. It would have denied the great Jack Nicklaus his first victory at St. Andrews.
In the 1970 British Open, Lee Trevino blew up to a 77 on the final day. Sanders was in a tussle with Nicklaus, but appeared to have the upper hand. He had a one-shot lead playing the easy 18th hole, and he needed only a two-putt par to win the claret jug. The first putt went about 3 feet by the hole.
Sanders backed off, and then hit a weak stroke that missed. He flipped the putter in the air, a mixture of surprise and disgust. The bogey led to a playoff that Nicklaus won the next day by one shot.
1. FRENCHMAN FOLLIES
As much as Jean Van de Velde could have used a mulligan, he was equally a part of bad luck in the final hole at Carnoustie in the 1999 British Open. All these years later, it stands as the greatest collapse in a major, and it likely will for years to come.
Van de Velde had a three-shot lead playing the 18th, hit driver off the tee into the right rough, drew a good lie and elected to hit 2-iron to the green. Once it cleared the burn, the tournament should have been over — except the ball hit the railing on the grandstand, flew back over the burn into tall, thick grass. The rest was history, and so was Van de Velde. His wedge went into the burn. His fifth shot went into a bunker and had he had to scramble to make triple bogey.
He wound up losing in a three-man playoff to Paul Lawrie.
“Maybe next time I’ll hit the wedge,” Van de Velde said of his second shot.
There was no next time.