Sunday, July 20, 2008

The men's British Open golf tournament (or just "The Open" as it's sometimes called) ended today, with two of the leading final-day contenders exhibiting streaky play in various combinations of hot and cold.

Padraig Harrington ended up winning the tournament for the second straight year, but early on today, that didn't seem very likely. This chart of his day-by-day, hole-by-hole performance in this year's Open illustrates why.

Entering today's play trailing sentimental favorite Greg Norman by two strokes, Harrington shot a par on each of the first six holes, but then bogeyed hole numbers 7, 8, and 9. Granted, Norman wasn't doing too well himself at the time (discussed below), but Harrington certainly wasn't giving any sign that he was revved up for a big finish. The back nine holes would go a lot better for him, however, as he shifted from coldness to hotness.

Harrington birdied hole 13 (which he had not done in any of the initial three rounds) and 15, and eagled 17. He had no bogeys on the back nine and, in context, even some of his pars were impressive. For example, he had bogeyed hole 11 each of the first three days, but got a par today. All told, Harrington recorded a score of 69 for the final round to finish four strokes ahead of runner-up Ian Poulter.

For Norman, a lot was at stake as he unexpectedly got back in the spotlight. He had won the 1986 and 1993 British Opens (his only Grand Slam tournament titles), but he also had an extensive history of blowing leads entering the final day of major tournaments (discussed here and here). All of this set the stage for Norman's round today, as noted in this article:

This had all the elements of a fairy tale like few others in golf. Norman, 53, married tennis great Chris Evert three weeks ago and was on the tail end of his honeymoon when he wound up with a two-shot lead going into the final round and a chance to become the oldest major champion. Instead, it ended like so many other majors when he was in his prime.

Norman got into immediate trouble, bogeying his first three holes. And unlike Harrington, Norman never turned things around, accumulating eight bogeys for the day (compared to only one birdie), and tallying a 77 to finish tied for third.

Harrington's performance earlier today may not quite rank up there with Phil Mickelson's amazing final round in the 2004 Masters, in which he birdied five of the last seven holes to claim his first victory in a Grand Slam event (discussed here). Still, considering that no golfer in this year's British Open came close to breaking par for the full tournament amidst the windy conditions and unforgiving greens, Harrington's finish should rank up there.

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