2002: Fellow Aussies allow chances to slip away
Steve Elkington and Stuart Appleby will think about Muirfield’s 18th hole for a long time. It might just give them nightmares.
Had the two Australians handled the 18th better, then one of them might now be introduced on tees around the world as the 2002 British Open champion.
Elkington missed two putts on the 18th that cost him the chance to become the first Australian to win the British since Greg Norman at Royal St. George’s in 1993.
The 1995 PGA champion had a 5-foot birdie putt in regulation to move to 7 under par and the outright lead, but the ball missed the hole on the left.
“I had a real chance to win there at 18 in regulation,” Elkington said. “I really just thought the putt was straight. I played it straight, and it just went left.”
Elkington then missed a similar-length par putt after chipping from behind the green in the playoff, eliminating him from a sudden-death playoff with Els and Levet.
Elkington left Muirfield vowing not to think about those two misses. The Australian had to qualify for Muirfield, taking one of seven spots at Dunbar. That helped him put his playoff loss in perspective.
“At the start of the week, I hadn’t even qualified, and then to be in a playoff (where) I could have won the Open. . . . It was worth the trip,” he said.
“I will look back and say, ‘Hey, in 2002, I could have won the Open at Muirfield. I would have liked the (claret) jug, but I am not going to dwell on it too much. I don’t think there is anyone who could have hit the ball any better than I did today. If that putt had gone in at the 72nd hole, I would have the jug.”
Instead he got a silver runner-up plate he said he would “put in some cupboard back home.”
Appleby, who played his last 10 holes of regulation in 6 under, got the same silver plate. He also could have won if he had only found the green at the last playoff hole.
Appleby was paired with Els in the playoff and bogeyed the 16th hole. He made up that stroke when he birdied the par-5 17th after two-putting from the front edge. He split the 18th fairway with his tee shot, but pushed his approach into a greenside bunker.
The three-time PGA Tour winner then failed to get his third shot onto the green. Appleby had to hole his chip shot to continue in the playoff, but ran it by.
“It was interesting that I got into the playoff, and I did not play near my best golf at all,” Appleby said. “Playoffs are hit-or-miss sort of things.”