A historical look at British Open heartbreak

Wednesday - 7/17/2013, 10:33am EDT

DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer

GULLANE, Scotland (AP) -- Not many people believed Adam Scott when he said he would take nothing but positives away from the British Open last year, despite blowing a four-shot lead with four holes remaining by closing with four straight bogeys at Royal Lytham & St. Annes and losing by one shot to Ernie Els.

It was crushing. Surely, it must have been devastating.

"I think if I sat there and watched someone else do what I did, it would have been devastating," Scott said in June. "I didn't feel that way. I felt like I played good enough to win and I almost had in my head. It wasn't heartbreaking like I would imagine it looked, or if I'd watched someone else do it."

Scott rebounded quickly by winning the Masters about nine months later. It didn't make up for losing the British Open, but his assessment of his game was proven correct.

"If there is such a thing as golf gods, I think they heard the prayers of Adam Scott's fans," Paul Azinger said this week.

Not everyone is so fortunate.

There is plenty of heartache in the British Open, and not everyone recovers, even if they have major championships to soothe them.

Here are five examples of heart-breaking moments in golf's oldest championship:

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5. OH, HALE

Hale Irwin was going along nicely in the third round in 1983 at Royal Birkdale as he tried to keep pace with four-time champion Tom Watson. On the 14th hole, Irwin had about a 12-foot birdie putt to reach 7 under, and he left the putt one turn short.

What happened next remains a mystery.

Irwin went to back-hand the putt when his putter bounced off the ground and over the ball -- a whiff. It counted as a stroke, and Irwin tapped in for a bogey. He fumbled the ball as he retrieved it from the cup, and then he made bogey on the next hole, clearly rattled. Irwin wound up with a 72, four shots behind Watson.

He made a beautiful charge Sunday with a 67, but there was this sinking feeling that giving away a stroke is never good in a major, particularly in the British Open when Watson is in the lead. Sure enough, Watson had two putts from 20 feet for the win.

"Now I've got to go see Watson two-putt this thing and make me cry," Irwin said.

Watson lagged it toward the hole, tapped in for a 70 and won his fifth Open.

Irwin would win a third U.S. Open at age 45 seven years later, but he never had another chance in the British Open.

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4. BJORN'S BUNKER

The opening round of the 2003 Open at Royal St. George's might have been an omen for Thomas Bjorn. A bad omen. He was in a bunker and failed to get out, and slammed his club into the sand out of disgust. That turned into a two-shot penalty for testing the conditions because his ball returned to the sand.

But that was nothing compared with Sunday.

With an All-Star cast of contenders, Bjorn played beautifully and built a two-shot lead with three holes to play. He found a bunker on the par-3 16th, with the pin near the edge of the green. Bjorn blasted onto the green, but not hard enough and the ball rolled back into the sand. He hit again, and the same thing happened. He finally got it out on the third try and made the putt for double bogey.

Now he was tied.

He missed a 6-foot par putt on the 17th, and his only chance to win was to chip in from long range for birdie on the 18th. It never had a chance, and Ben Curtis was the Open champion.

"I certainly feel like I deserve a little bit more than I got this week," Bjorn said. "That's the way it is. You go on. But I'm sure it's going to be tough the next few days."

Bjorn had another chance in the Open when it returned to Sandwich in 2011. He shared the first-round lead, but wound up four shots behind Darren Clarke.

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3. SHARK IN THE SAND

Greg Norman's only win in the majors at Turnberry in 1986 failed to change his luck. Bob Tway holed a bunker shot on the 72nd hole to beat him in the next major at the PGA Championship. Larry Mize holed a 140-foot chip at the Masters to beat him in a playoff at the next major.