He went from G-Mac to G-Snap in the blink of an eye. All it took was one bad swing and Graeme McDowell's Open challenge was over. He stood in position A at the par-five 11th with a fairway wood in his hand. One snap hook later and his ball was in position Z, lost in a bush.
His ball set off like an Exocet towards the gallery. Had it been any lower, he wouldn't have been paying for a hotel bill like his pal Rory McIlroy did when he whacked a teenager on the head, McDowell would have been paying for a funeral. It was a shot that weekend hackers know only too well. But for McDowell it was a once-in-a-lifetime catastrophe. And what a wretched time to do it. "It was a dead pull, 15-handicapper card-wrecker," McDowell said after his final round five-over-par 75. "I struggled to adapt to the conditions with the crosswinds."
The thought must have crossed his mind as he was sitting on the buggy being taken back to play his penalty shot, his brain like scrambled eggs, to ask the driver to keep going and drop him off at Lytham station. "That was very smart. There goes my Open Championship," McDowell said he was thinking as he stared into the abyss knowing it was all over but he still had seven holes to negotiate. "It's the longest walk in golf," he said. "And, believe me, the cart ride doesn't make it any shorter."
That's twice in two months the 32-year-old has gone out in the final pairing of a major and lost. Last month he just couldn't reel in Webb Simpson at the US Open. Yesterday, his Open dream dived into a gorse bush. But sportsmen are always searching for the positives from a painful defeat. McDowell will know he is back to being the street-fighting man that he was in 2010 when he won the US Open at Pebble Beach and holed the winning putt at the Ryder Cup. His 2011 annus horribilis hangover is over.
So what did he learn? "Going out in the last group in the last two majors with chances to win, but getting off to a flat start. That's frustrating. I'll be analysing why," he said. "You just can't buy the type of education I've just had at Lytham as well as five weeks ago [at the Olympic Club in San Francisco]. I'll bank that and know that if I keep putting myself in contention, one day it will be my time."
Next up, it's the US PGA Championship in August at Kiawah Island near Charlotte in North Carolina – glory's last shot, as it's called. You would fancy McDowell to feature on Sunday afternoon again. "Today was a bad day at the office," McDowell said. But the Northern Irishman, always classy whether in victory or defeat, knew to put his own frustrations into perspective, having witnessed Adam Scott's four-bogeys meltdown over the final holes: "My disappointment seems relatively stupid as I've just seen a guy lose the Open Championship. It's hard to watch a guy do that. I'm not beat up. I'm not splattered in the floor. I'll be back."
He was talking about himself but it was impossible not to think that McDowell's words were, as ever, well chosen. He knew just how Scott would be feeling. McDowell slipped away no doubt for a beer to ease the pain. Scott, meanwhile, might get to know how Oates felt on that failed Antarctic expedition: "I am just going out for a while, and I may be some time."