Englishman Gary Evans played at The Belfry with three buddies Sept. 28, the day the Ryder Cup was supposed to start. In the bar the night before, he was at his self-deprecating best.
“This is as close as I’ll get to a Ryder Cup,” he quipped. He may be closer than he thinks, if his finish at Muirfield is any evidence.
The demonstrative Evans, 32, came within one stroke of a playoff at the 131st British Open at Muirfield. He fired a final-round 65, including an outward 31 that included a par at the 17th despite a lost ball.
After a bogey at his opening hole Sunday, Evans, who started his final round almost three hours ahead of the leaders, followed with birdies on eight of the next 10 holes. He moved from 1 over at the start of the round to 6 under, and briefly into the solo lead.
Evans, however, lost a ball in the hay after a poor second shot at the par-5 17th, costing him a penalty and forcing him to return to his previous spot and hit his fourth shot, which he landed on the green. The crowd went nuts when the Evans rolled in his 45-foot par putt. Only a bogey at the last hole, where he found the rough off the tee, kept him out of the playoff.
Evans was labeled a future star when he joined the PGA European Tour in 1992. His amateur record was outstanding: the English Boys’ Championship, two English Amateur Stroke Play Championships and two Lytham Trophies were in his trophy case.
Evans played in the 1991 Walker Cup match at Portmarnock, Ireland, compiling a 2-2 record for Great Britain & Ireland in a losing effort. One of those victories was over David Duval, 2 and 1, in the first day’s singles. Evans turned pro shortly afterward and was expected to take the European Tour by storm.
Evans broke his wrist in 1992, but was unaware that the injury was so serious. He played on for two years before the problem was properly diagnosed. In 1994, he had soft tissue reconstruction and has been trying to make a comeback ever since.
“I don’t know how the top guys cope,” Evans said after dealing with the pressure of being a Sunday leader at the Open. “This was a different world to me. I’m just delighted that it’s over.”
Mad Monty: Colin Montgomerie always has had a love-hate relationship with the press. There was more of the latter than the former during the 131st British Open at Muirfield.
On July 21, the Scotsman came off the 18th green and complained about the press coverage he had received all week. He was particularly upset at suggestions from some newspapers that he left Muirfield in a huff after struggling to a 13-over-par 84 in the third round.
“I would’ve spoken yesterday (Saturday),” he said. “Tiger Woods was there (at the 18th) and you (the press) were more interested in him. I left five minutes after he had finished his round. I left here and no one wanted to speak to me. I didn’t storm off. I didn’t go off in a temper, OK?
“I played in very difficult circumstances yesterday, and I’m very disappointed at the way you (the press) keep on trying to believe that I have a bad temper on the golf course. I haven’t shown a sign of temper on a golf course for five years.
“I’m very, very disappointed. I’m really hurt by it.”
So hurt, Montgomerie said, that “I’ve pulled out of golf tournaments the next two weeks. I can’t handle it any more.”
Montgomerie is scheduled to defend his Volvo Scandinavian Masters title Aug. 1-4. Guy Kinnings, Montgomerie’s manager at IMG, said he would allow his player to regroup for 24 hours, then discuss his schedule with him.
Montgomerie never has finished better than eighth at the British Open. His roller-coaster week at Muirfield was reflected in his scores: 74-64-84 in the first three rounds. He shot 75 Sunday and finished 82nd.
Westwood’s woes: Lee Westwood’s slump showed no signs of relenting. Westwood bogeyed the final two holes Friday for a 3-over-par total of 145 and missed the cut by a shot. That put him in a foul mood, and he stomped out of the scorer’s hut, refusing requests for interviews. In 18 months, Westwood has fallen from No. 5 in the Official World Ranking to 102nd, and is ranked No. 217 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index.
Westwood’s manager, Chubby Chandler, said his client’s mood reflected his desire to regain his former status. “He has the glint in his eye now,” Chandler said. “He wants to do it now, whereas maybe nine months ago he was not bothered. He’s bothered now.”
Also missing the cut were Vijay Singh, Brad Faxon, Tom Lehman, Jim Furyk, Michael Campbell, Matt Kuchar, Hal Sutton, John Daly, Adam Scott and John Cook, the runner-up to Nick Faldo at Muirfield in 1992.
Lefty not a factor: Phil Mickelson arrived at Muirfield with some low shots added to his repertoire and hopes of winning his first major. A first-round 68 put him into contention, but a 76 in the second round took him out. Although he wasn’t in the mix Sunday, Lefty departed Muirfield feeling reasonably upbeat after finishing 76-70 for a 6-over 290 total, tied for 66th.
“It was an enjoyable week even though I didn’t play as well as I would have liked,” he said. “I really like the golf course. I think the golf course set up very well for me. I really like how it was fair in front of the greens, the ball always kicked straight. The fairways were generous. I didn’t hit it solid, and I didn’t putt the best. When those two things aren’t going your way on this golf course, it’s tough to play well.”
On the opening hole of the second round, Mickelson, entangled in the right rough, advanced his second shot only 30 yards. He couldn’t find the ball, his caddie couldn’t find it and the marshall couldn’t find it. Who did? Playing partner Faldo sprinted across the fairway, walked into the rough and went directly to the ball. Faldo had precisely lined it up from 50 yards away.
Tiger tamer: Justin Rose passed the Tiger Woods test with flying colors in the opening round after being paired with the world’s top-ranked player.
“I was pretty nervous on the first tee, it must be said, more nervous than I’ve been all year to be honest,” Rose said. “But I nailed a 2-iron down the fairway, which settled the nerves pretty quick.”
Rose was two shots better than Woods, shooting 68. “I didn’t get caught up in watching him or all the stuff that goes on around him,” Rose said.
The best part about outscoring Woods, he said, was that it helped his friends cash in some gambling chits. British bookmakers had Rose at 5-to-2 odds to beat Woods head-to-head.
“I made my mates a couple of quid (British pounds),” Rose said with a laugh. “I know a couple of them backed me to beat Tiger in my three-ball.”
Late entry: Tom Whitehouse, a 22-year-old European mini-tour player from Birmingham, England, was the most unlikely participant at Muirfield. On July 8, he left Venice, Italy, at 6:45 a.m. and flew to Manchester via Brussels, then hitched a ride with his uncle to Little Aston Golf Club near Birmingham for regional qualifying. They pulled into the parking lot just as Whitehouse was being called to the tee. He shot 71 and lost in a playoff for the final spot.
Whitehouse went to Muirfield as 77th alternate, and was about to return home to Maxstoke Park, England, when he was informed that because of withdrawals related to the Loch Lomond results and the unavailability of other reserves, a spot had opened in the final qualifier at North Berwick. Whitehouse shot 68-68 and lost in a playoff, leaving him as first reserve for the Open. He made the big show when Kenny Perry withdrew the day before Round 1.
Whitehouse shot 75-71 and missed the cut by two.
Travelin’ man: Carl Pettersson, the first-round co-leader who finished in a tie for 43rd, was born in Sweden but commutes to the European Tour from his home in Raleigh, N.C. He normally travels to Europe for four tournaments in a row, then goes home for two weeks. His success at Muirfield came as no surprise to those who follow the European circuit. Known as a superb putter with an unflappable demeanor, Pettersson, 24, had six top 10s on the European Tour leading up to the Open, including a victory at the Algarve Open.
Pettersson’s father, Lars, worked for the truck division of Volvo, and had assignments in England and the United States, where Carl spent most of his formative years. Carl won the European Amateur Championship in 2000 and played on Sweden’s Eisenhower Trophy team that year. Pettersson was a standout golfer at North Carolina State, where he played on the same team with Tim Clark of South Africa. Clark missed the cut at Muirfield.
Media man: Jean Van de Velde, the infamous Open runner-up at Carnoustie in 1999, worked the BBC telecast and wrote a column for The Daily Telegraph. After Round 1, he penned a column criticizing players for not being more aggressive in the perfect conditions at Muirfield.
He admitted, however, that it’s easy to second guess.
“Now that I am sitting in the commentator’s chair, it is easy to be critical,” Van de Velde wrote. “It all looks so easy when you are watching on television. But to actually make the shots with the pressure of the big galleries and the glare of the camera lens is something else.”
Short shots: Nick Faldo’s 69 in the second round was his 34th sub-70 round in the British Open, the most in tournament history. He had shared the record with Jack Nicklaus. . . . Jonathan Kaye and Roger Chapman were disqualified for signing incorrect scorecards Friday. Kaye signed for a 4 at the 11th, when in fact he made 5, and he signed for a 5 at the 12th, where he took 4. Chapman didn’t catch an incorrect score at No. 7. Each player opened with 3-over 74s and would have missed the 36-hole cut. . . . Thomas Bjorn used a 1-iron for the first time in a decade. Suffice it to say amateurs aren’t the only ones who think a 1-iron resembles a butter knife. “I’m not used to seeing a clubface like that,” Bjorn said. Bjorn is one of the few professionals who plays practice rounds by himself. He likes to go to the course by 7 a.m. and work in solitude. “When I do my own thing, nothing gets to me,” Bjorn said. . . . At a July 10 auction (Golfweek Preferred, June 29), the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers purchased a George III silver watch, engraved and awarded to Honourable Company secretary James Balfour for winning a long-drive contest in 1789. The club paid 10,000 pounds (approximately $15,760) for the watch, which it plans to display in the Muirfield clubhouse. . . . Scott Hoch, who hardly endeared himself to Scottish fans with his criticism of hallowed St. Andrews, challenged for the title with a closing 66 but finished tied for eighth. Hoch’s best previous finish in four Opens? A tie for 68th. Asked what he thought about Muirfield, Hoch said, “It’s pretty good for over here.” Asked if he expected to play the Old Course at St. Andrews in 2005, Hoch replied “You can forget it. Even if I’d won here, I’m not going to play it.”
– Alistair Tait, James Achenbach,
Dave Seanor, Jeff Rude