CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- Even with its meandering Barry Burn, ravenous pot bunkers and ball-swallowing rough, the 18th hole at Carnoustie needs a makeover. It needs curtains, a marquee and ushers. It's not a golf hole; it's a theater.
Eight years after Jean Van de Velde took off his shoes and waded unforgettably into the Barry Burn on his way to an unthinkable triple-bogey, the hole called "Home" staged a fiendish twist in the plot yesterday.
It had this 35-year-old Irishman, Padraig Harrington, dunking two balls into the creek to blow a one-shot lead so graphically that even Harrington's wife thought of Van de Velde.
But then, for variety, in an uncanny reprieve, it had this same guy winning the 136th British Open in a four-hole playoff for his first major title on his 37th try.
That's because No. 18 flashed a fresh theatrical dimension in the sneering lip of its cup.
That lip all but jumped out and bit Sergio Garcia as the 27-year-old Spaniard sent a 7-foot putt toward the 72nd hole and his first major championship on his 36th try.
As the putt rolled firm and bold, Harrington watched from a hut with the TV sound turned down so as to miss any commentary on his closing double-bogey 6.
He also watched from the kind of career-threatening emotional precipice only golf can manage, noting later that if he had done a Van de Velde in the tournament, "I think I would have struggled to come back out and be a competitive golfer."
And, Harrington said, Garcia "hit a lovely putt."
Said Garcia, "I still don't know how that par putt missed." But it did miss, curling around the back of the cup and away.
Harrington, who shot 67, and Garcia, who shot 73, finished regulation at 7-under-par 277. After the putt, Garcia buried his head between his arms. He then raised his head and put his hands on it before proceeding to an unwanted playoff, which he lost to Harrington by one shot after the Irishman took a two-shot lead on the first hole, No. 1.
The tournament Garcia led for three days after Thursday's fine 65 had gotten away from him, come back to him and then gotten away again, all on the same day.
Harrington recovered from a six-shot deficit to become the first Irishman to win a major tournament since Fred Daly won the British Open in 1947. And Europe had its first major champion after a 31-event drought that stretched back to Paul Lawrie's title at Van de Velde's expense in 1999.
In addition, Carnoustie, on the east coast of Scotland, had reiterated that it's peerless in the spectacle department, not least because it harbors that fearful finishing hole.
So much happened yesterday that it's hard to summarize, but here's a sampling: Garcia, leading Steve Stricker by three shots and Harrington (and six other golfers) by six at the outset, made three bogeys in four holes on the front nine to match the three he had made in the first 58 holes since Thursday.
His score dropped to 7-under-par, his cushion was nearly gone and others commenced nibbling. Ernie Els charged to within one shot, then fell back. Harrington went from 3-under-par to 6-under on the front nine alone. And then came Andres Romero, a 27-year-old Argentine in just his third major, who, after a string of birdies, went to No. 17 at 9-under with a two-shot lead, then finished double bogey, bogey.
Painting a scorecard full of reds (birdies) and blues (bogeys, double bogeys), Romero birdied Nos. 10 and 11 (with a chip from a bunker), took a double bogey on No. 12, then birdied Nos. 13, 14, 15 and 16 as any hole close of his putter came to seem wide as the Firth of Tay.
He went to No. 17 at 9-under-par with a two-shot lead before collapsing.
"No disappointment at all," he said from his youth, noting, "I belonged out there." In the next, hectic moments, the three players bounced around the top. Harrington rose to 9-under by trickling in a 20-foot eagle putt on No. 14. Romero dropped to 7-under with his double-bogey at No. 17 and to 6-under with a bogey at No. 18. Garcia birdied No. 13 and No. 14 to reach 9-under, but bogeyed No. 15.
Harrington played No. 18 while Garcia played the adjacent No. 17, so Garcia knew Harrington's drive had bounced just before a bridge on No. 18 and then tried to cross the bridge before falling off it at the last moment.
Harrington took a drop and chunked one into the creek's next crossing. He made a tough up-and-down with an 4-foot save for double bogey, bringing Garcia to No. 18 needing only par.
After a flawless drive, Garcia waited for the group ahead to finish. "Then it seemed to take a long time to rake two bunkers, a very long time. It's not fun, not fun standing there."
Chuck Culpepper writes for the Los Angeles Times.