The man who playedbest during the amazing and tumultuous final round of the British Open was notproclaimed the Champion Golfer of the Year at the awards ceremony. He wasn'teven in the dramatic playoff between eventual winner Padraig Harrington andSergio García. ¬∂ No, the golfer who played best, Andrés Romero, left Carnoustiesimply as the Man Who Should've Won the Open. A raw but talented 25-year-oldfrom Yerba Buena in northwest Argentina, Romero finished third, a shot out ofthe playoff, even though he tore apart Carnoustie with a championship-best 10birdies during a four-under 67 that, unfortunately, also included a pair ofdouble bogeys, the most damaging of which occurred on the 71st hole when heheld a two-shot lead. "Andrés played very well right from the start,"said Jim Furyk, Romero's playing partner on Sunday. "Obviously, he playedsuper. I feel badly for the finish, but he should be proud."
Romero, whosenickname is Pigu ("which, as I'm often asked, does not mean anything,"he says), was a member of a small cast of disappointed contenders who beatthemselves. Steve Stricker, playing in the final group with García, wasbetrayed by his putter in the final round, just as he had been at theU.S.¬†Open, following a Saturday 64 with a 74 to tie for eighth. Ernie Els,who missed greens and putts in a very un-Ernie-like manner down the stretch,wound up with a 69, placing him two strokes out of the playoff and in a tie forfourth. Stewart Cink, who had quietly played his way into contention, bogeyedthree of the last 10 holes to finish with a 70 and a shot behind Els, in a tiefor sixth.
Romero, though,was the only one of the group to actually wrest the lead from Harrington andGarcía. The Argentine, who turned pro in 1998 and has won three times in Southand Central America and once on Europe's Challenge tour, made four birdies onthe front side, including virtual tap-ins after stiffing iron shots at the 3rdand 4th holes. After a bogey at the 9th he sank a 25-footer for birdie at thedifficult 10th. He was in trouble at the 11th, in a bad lie in a greenside potbunker, but holed out for an unexpected birdie to get within a shot of the leadat seven under.
Romero was not asfortunate at the par-4 12th, where he pushed his two-iron approach into a hugegorse bush and had to take an unplayable lie. He was forced to drop about 75yards from the green and play a blind wedge shot over the gorse and wound upmaking a two-putt double bogey. Romero responded with four straight birdies,holing putts from 12, 15, 15 and 16 feet. Suddenly, he led the Open by twoshots with two holes to play, and that's when his round turned Jean Van deVeldeian. "I was aware I was leading," Romero said. "The pressurecertainly caught up with me."
He pushed his teeshot at the par-4 17th into a poor lie in the right rough. Even though theBarry Burn winds across the fairway, Romero went for the green with a two-iron.The deep grass grabbed the club, turned it over and sent the ball in a low linedrive to the left. It appeared headed for the burn, which would've been badenough. What happened was worse. Romero's ball caromed off the steps in thewall of the burn, flew 50 yards left and rolled beyond the out-of-bounds fenceadjacent to the 18th hole.
"I hit a verybad second shot on 17," Romero said, "but I also had very badluck." He switched to a three-wood for his fourth shot, knocked it on thegreen to 25 feet and two-putted for a double bogey. The two-iron was a terribledecision. With the lead in a major and four tough finishing holes practicallyguaranteed to make everyone else drop at least a shot on the way in, the smartplay was to chip back to the fairway, hit onto the green and leave himself apar-saving putt. Instead Romero went to the Phil Mickelson playbook.
"I neverconsidered playing safe," Romero said. "The lie wasn't bad enough forme to make that decision. I thought I had a chance to get it on the green. Iwasn't certain of what club to play, and perhaps that was my mistake. Thesecond time around I did it the way I should have, with the three-wood. I hitthe right club."
While Romero wasmaking his double, Harrington was eagling the 14th to go to nine under andproduce a four-shot swing. Romero went to the 18th tee trailing by two andbombed a perfect drive down the middle. He hit an eight-iron from 190 yards butpulled it one bounce from another out-of-bounds fence. A weak chip and a missed12-foot putt resulted in the bogey that would keep him out of the playoff. Butat the time that mistake didn't loom so large because he was three shotsback.
"I feel verypleased," Romero said after signing his scorecard. "The best players inthe world are here, and I played with the Number 3 player in the world today. Ifelt comfortable playing with him and felt I belonged. No disappointment atall."
He surely changedhis mind later when Harrington had a Van de Velde moment of his own. Romero'snot-so-bad mistake was actually a classic Jean-sized blunder that may have costhim the Open.
"I did it on17, not 18, but I could be put into that category by some," Romero said."I certainly wasn't thinking about Van de Velde at that moment. I wasconcentrating very hard. What happened, happened."
What happened was,the Man Who Should've Won the Open, didn't.
David Feherty's Fly on the Ball is exclusively at GOLF.com.
"I NEVER CONSIDERED PLAYING IT SAFE," Romerosaid. "The lie wasn't bad enough for me to make that decision."
Photograph by Fred Vuich
This two-iron on 17 wound up OB, knocking Romero from the lead.
The unheralded Argentine got some love from a fan after his bigboo-boo.