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Two trips into the Barry Burn on No. 18 almost wrecked Padraig Harrington's best chance to win a major. (Warren Little/Getty Images)
Two trips into the Barry Burn on No. 18 almost wrecked Padraig Harrington's best chance to win a major. (Warren Little/Getty Images)

Carnoustie's devilish 18th again rears its ugly head

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The killer closing hole at Carnoustie burnished its fearsome reputation again Sunday, first wrecking Padraig Harrington's initial crack at victory, then crushing Sergio Garcia's hopes. Somewhere, Jean Van de Velde understood.

By Tim Dahlberg, AP Sports Columnist

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (AP) -- Somewhere, Jean Van de Velde must have been laughing, perhaps wine glass in hand, at what he was watching unfold on the TV.

With good reason, too. The ghosts of Carnoustie had haunted him long enough.

For eight years he had put up with constant replays of his implosion on the 18th hole, the endless jokes at the local country club about someone "pulling a Van de Velde."

His game went bad, and so did his marriage. His health followed soon after.

Maybe now it was someone else's turn. Maybe now they would understand just how hard it had been.

Maybe now they would be the haunted ones.

After a long, wet day on the Scottish coast, Padraig Harrington very nearly was. It remains to be seen if Sergio Garcia will be.

Harrington's 18th hole meltdown Sunday had all the elements of Van de Velde's infamous collapse except that he didn't take off his shoes and go wading in the creek in front of the final green -- and he didn't end up losing the playoff.

One roll of Garcia's ball was all that stood between him and what he admitted could have been a career-shattering defeat. One putt that seemed destined to go in, but somehow stayed out, spared him from being linked forever with one of golf's greatest losers.

"If Sergio parred the last and I did lose, I think I would have struggled to come back out and be a competitive golfer," Harrington said. "It meant that much to me. But I never let it sink into me that I had just thrown away the Open Championship on the 18th."

Harrington had plenty of time to think about that, if only his young son, Patrick, didn't keep interrupting him with joyful hugs. Dad wasn't quite as happy, knowing all Garcia had to do was make a par on the 18th hole to win.

Any other week, it wouldn't have been that tough to do. Any other major championship venue, and Garcia probably would be the one smiling.

But this was the 18th at Carnoustie, a 499-yard disaster waiting to happen. The Barry Burn winds crazily through it, there's deep rough left, and out of bounds just left of that. Throw in a few bunkers for good measure, and par becomes merely a concept.

Golf can be a cruel game. This hole borders on sinister.

Harrington knew that as he stood on the tee with a one-shot lead, pulled out his driver, and bounced his ball twice on a bridge over the Barry Burn before gravity took over and it settled into a watery grave. He hit another into the water in front of the green before making a nice up and down to save double bogey.

His blond-haired son came out to give him a hug, and Harrington picked him up on the green, took off his hat, and waved to the crowd.

His smile hid the fact he knew he might have blown the opportunity of a lifetime. But he also knew Garcia still had to play the hole, and maybe the ghosts of Carnoustie's 18th hadn't retired for the night.

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"I think that 18th is as tough as you're going to find in golf," Harrington said. "There's nowhere to hide."

Van de Velde and Harrington had both blown leads by hitting driver, and now Garcia stood on the tee with a one-shot lead and decided to change tactics and go with a long iron. As Van de Velde tried to explain over the years, there are really only two ways to play the 18th, and neither are very attractive. Hit a driver and you risk disaster; hit an iron and the hole plays more like a par 5.

No one listened because they figured he was a crazy Frenchman who wasn't thinking right. They laughed when he returned weeks later to play the hole with just a putter for a commercial shoot and made 6.

Turned out he knew what he was talking about.

Playing it safe got Garcia a shot from the fairway, but that was about it. He waited impatiently for the group in front of him to putt and then for the bunkers to be raked, and it took a toll.

Garcia hit his next shot into the front left bunker, blasted out and had a 10-footer to win. It hit the left edge of the hole, but somehow didn't fall.

By the time they returned to 18 in the playoff, Harrington had a 2-shot lead. Underneath the huge greenside bleachers some 500 yards away, his wife and son waited for another hug, and even with a lead they weren't certain if it would be one of celebration or commiseration. Their answer came when Garcia's birdie putt slid by and Harrington made a 3-footer for bogey.

This time the hugs began in earnest, and there was even one from Harrington's wife for Garcia.

"I couldn't believe it. ... I'm thinking, `The Open champion,' " Harrington said. "Am I the Open Champion? What does this mean?"

Harrington will have a career to contemplate that.

For now, though, it means the ghost of Carnoustie's 18th will be haunting someone else.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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