THE OPEN: Last pair leave it too late

Tim Glover follows the misfortunes of the final day's two gallant losers
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The Independent Online
After two rounds the Dubliner Padraig Harrington was over the moon. "It's fantastic, isn't it?" he said. "I don't think any Irishman has ever won the Open, has he?"

In his excitement, Harrington was thinking more about the Ulsterman Darren Clarke than Fred Daly, who lifted the old claret jug at Hoylake (the Open, sadly, has outgrown the Liverpool links) 50 years ago.

There was to be no centenary hooley at Royal Troon yesterday although there was no shortage of volunteers. After two and a half rounds Big Darren - he used to be a beefy rugby union wing-forward - was four strokes clear of the field but went into the final day two shots adrift of the colourful Swede, Jesper Parnevik. Goodness only knows what Clarke would not have given yesterday for Harrington's 67.

Purely on the question of sartorial elegance, the suspicion is that the blue blazers of the Royal and Ancient would have preferred Coco the Clown to take possession of the silver trophy rather than the son of one of Sweden's top comedians who goes by the name of Bo.

Jesper appeared on the practice putting green sporting not just his trademark, the upturned cap - whenever picture editors see this they are confused into thinking that the Swede is playing into a hurricane - but a pair of purple drainpipe trousers. Anybody wearing jeans or shorts is not allowed into the Troon clubhouse but apparently it is all right for the leader to appear in a shade of lavender.

Clarke was far more circumspect when he opened his wardrobe door yesterday morning, selecting a white shirt, black trousers and black and white shoes. Nobody wins the Open wearing purple trousers, not even the walking spectrum, Doug Sanders.

Clarke looked relaxed as he practised his putting, a routine only interrupted by the arrival of the Surrey golfer Richard Boxall. "Don't worry about it son," Boxall told Clarke before the final round.

When Clarke arrived on the first tee it was to raucous applause and he made the perfect start, holing a lengthy putt for a birdie three. His playing partner, Parnevik, hit an iron rather than a driver off the first, knocked his second into a bunker and played a truly brilliant shot out of the sand.

When Clarke walked to the second he was one stroke off the lead and he smacked his drive way right towards the Firth of Clyde. Having gone out of bounds and playing three off the tee, he found a bunker and although he hit a cracker out of there, he carded a double-bogey six. He went from 10-under to eight-under and never fully recovered from the experience.

His coach, the Yorkshireman Peter Cowen, pointed out that Clarke was in virgin territory. "He's been playing effective golf," Cowen said. "Not necessarily pretty, but effective. Now it's all to do with this." He patted his head and his heart.

Parnevik, of course, had experienced the kitchen heat in the Open, making a mistake at the last to lose by a stroke to Nick Price at Turnberry in 1994. With a birdie at the third here, Parnevik led by four from Clarke and a young American called Justin Leonard.

By the time he reached the turn, Parnevik still led Clarke by four but Leonard was only one behind. While Clarke struggled to keep his ball in play, Parnevik flattered to deceive. He found a bunker on the sixth and took six, hit the flag on the seventh which enabled him to get a birdie three and made a great save at the eighth, the Postage Stamp.

Parnevik appeared to be in control but there was no rhythm nor reason to what he did over the back nine. He bogeyed the 10th, as did Leonard, but birdied the notorious 11th, the Railway, by making a huge putt. That got him to 12-under for the Championship and he led Leonard by two.

It was, however, the beginning of the end of the great railway journey. Parnevik dropped a stroke at the 13th and his confidence almost visibly evaporated as Leonard, playing directly in front of him, began to make a succession of long putts.

When the Swede missed a short putt on the 17th he went back to 10 under, presenting Leonard with the luxury of playing the 18th with a two-stroke cushion. The American sat on it as Parnevik had another bogey at the last, dropping him into a tie for second place with Clarke who finished with a birdie.

Left to their own devices, the last pair out would have gone into a four- hole play-off but Leonard maintained a great American tradition on the Ayrshire links. Not so much claret as red, white and blue and Leonard was the biggest outsider to win the Open since...well, Mark Calcavecchia here in 1989.

At the beginning of another balmy day, Leonard was five strokes behind the leader and the last man to overcome such a deficit to win the Open in the final round was the Cornishman, Big Jim Barnes at Prestwick 72 years ago.