2005: British Open - Major vets in contention yet again

St. Andrews, Scotland

Between them they’ve posted only two top-5 finishes this decade in the majors. Yet at almost every Grand Slam event lately they’ve surfaced as contenders.

It was little surprise, then, that Jose Maria Olazabal and Fred Couples wrapped up a warm week on the Firth of Forth tied for third, albeit a half-dozen shots behind Open champion Tiger Woods.

Olazabal struggled late with bogeys at four of his final seven holes and finished at 8-under 280. Couples made only one bogey in the final round to surge from 22nd after 54 holes.

“I knew I would play well this week but maybe not this well,” said Couples, who had rounds of 68-71-73-68 and was second in the field in greens in regulation (85 percent).

Couples’ chances seemed headed down Swilcan Burn late Friday. Four under par after 27 holes, Couples felt pain in his fragile back on No. 10 and he spent the rest of the round gingerly plotting his way around the Old Course.Couples said it was the pounding from each swing against the hard links turf that caused the injury. His 6-iron shot from the 11th tee sailed far right, over a scoreboard and into the thick rough. He said he was lucky to make bogey on the hole.

“I never hit a shot like that in my life,” Couples said. “It wasn’t very much fun the next four or five holes with an iron because I thought I was going to shank every shot. Now I know what an amateur feels like.”

Olazabal’s game has been so amateurish the last few years that he began the season with partial status on the PGA Tour. Not since 1994 had the Spaniard failed to earn fully exempt status in the United States.

Olazabal (68-70-68-74) and runner-up Colin Montgomerie appeared to be the only players capable of catching Woods late Sunday. Two shots back standing on the 12th tee, Olazabal pulled his drive left and ended up between a pair of gorse bushes. He followed his miscue at No. 12 with a three-putt from 68 yards at the 13th for a bogey that sealed his fate.

It was a familiar bromide that cost Olazabal his third major title – poor driving. For the week he ranked 46th in fairways hit (64 percent), which actually was an improvement over his 62.7 percent season average on the PGA Tour.

“At the start of the year I drove the ball much better than I used to do,” Olazabal said. “I struggled the last four or five events . . . didn’t hit the ball well. But I started hitting a few good shots early in the week, and I tried to feed from that feeling.”

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