The Open 2014: Brave Sergio Garcia falls just short after taking up challenge

Spaniard finishes Open runner-up again but is proud of how he pushed McIlroy

Royal Liverpool

All he needs is love. Heartbreak again for Sergio Garcia in The Open, this time at Royal Liverpool. Chief bridesmaid for the second time, shared with Rickie Fowler, and his fourth top-five finish after a rousing final round of six-under-par 66, two shots shy of Rory McIlroy’s winning total of 17 under.

But the 34-year-old Spaniard was upbeat about his performance rather than distraught at yet another Open near-miss. “It was close,” he said. “I’m proud of the way I played. Got within two but every time I got close, he [McIlroy] kept making birdies. Rickie and I tried to push him as hard as we could but it’s not easy when you know you can’t make any mistakes,” he said.

Garcia received a standing ovation onto the 18th green. He returned the love beating his heart and pointing to the thousands packed in the horseshoe-shaped grandstand. He blew kisses, too, then gave McIlroy a hug outside the scoring hut. “I gave it a good effort,” Garcia said. There was no denying that.

With McIlroy riding away over the horizon taking a six-shot lead into the final round, there was nothing left for the chasing pack to do than play Monte-Carlo-or-bust golf and hope. There was no point in sticking; they all had to gamble. Garcia was first to roll the dice. The roars that carried across the links from behind the first green told McIlroy back on the tee that the Spaniard had bagged a birdie.

Tens of thousands had swarmed through the gates to bear witness to what they thought would be a historic coronation of the 25-year-old Northern Irishman. But they are sports fans first and foremost around these parts of the Wirral, with Liverpool just across the Mersey, and they wanted to see McIlroy’s rivals at least make a fight of it. Funny things happen in sport. The red half of Liverpool remembers the 2005 Champions League Final comeback in Istanbul and last season’s Premier League slip-up.

The atmosphere was more football match than golf tournament – more Ryder Cup as fans yelled out support for McIlroy but also for Garcia, Fowler (in his Sunday dustman’s orange), Sweden’s beanpole Robert Karlsson and American Ryder Cup regular Jim Furyk, who swings the club around his head like he’s fending off a swarm of bees.

All of them got the crowd thinking. One of them couldn’t do it, could they? Garcia birdied the third, too, then the fifth to get to 12 under par. Fowler birdied the third to reach 11 under but then his dustcart got a flat tyre and he left a trail of rubbish across the links. His putter will now be in a recycling bin. The Californian just could not get to 12 under until the easy par-five 10th by which time he was still five shots adrift of McIlroy.

 

The Northern Irishman had given encouragement to those studying leaderboards that this might not be the procession most had thought. Bogeys at the fifth and sixth threw him back to 15 under par and Garcia was just three shots back. The irony that the Spaniard might win at the expense of someone else blowing up was not lost on those watching the denouement unfold from behind the ropes.

Garcia fired a fabulous approach into the 10th to set up a 12-foot eagle putt. In it went, 14 under par, pandemonium. Luck was on his side, too. He slammed his approach to the 12th into the grandstand next to the green. Someone must have headed it back because it bounced over the seats and barriers to the edge of the green. Par saved.

But McIlroy was just keeping his nose in front. Birdies at the ninth and 10th, bogey at the par-three 13th after a nervous hook into the rough. He was finding it a grind but had the knowledge that he could cling to the comfort blanket of two par fives in the final three holes.

Garcia’s luck, inevitably, ran out at the 15th when he took two swipes with his wedge to escape from a cavernous bunker deep enough to hide a Volkswagen Beetle. He handed his wedge to his caddie between shots with the look of a kid who had broken his spade at the seaside.

Furyk shot a 65 but there was no sting in his tale – 13 under and fourth. Karlsson, who used to eat volcanic dust, erupted with two eagles but fell dormant again with two double bogeys and flowed down the leaderboard. McIlroy broke their hearts. But they all get a tilt at romancing the Claret Jug again next July at St Andrews. “So fare thee well my own true love, when I return united we will be,” goes the old Dubliners’ song. “It’s not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me. But my darling when I think of thee.”

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