Play-off tradition causes fans frustration

THE USGA, by general agreement, did a great job in staging the 108th US Open Championship. But they lost a lot of friends yesterday through the continuation of their tradition of deciding a tie in the event with an 18-hole play-off.

That issue is discussed elsewhere on this page but suffice to say, there were plenty of frustrated people at Torrey Pines on Sunday night.

As far as the USGA are concerned, it’s a straightforward situation. Tradition has a part to play in it but they also believe this is the best way of identifying the outstanding player that particular week. With a full 18-hole play-off, they insist there is less likelihood of a fluke winner and obviously there is merit in that argument. However, it doesn’t necessarily stand up and most certainly did not in 1955 at Olympic, San Francisco, when a virtual unknown, Jack Fleck, defeated the legendary Ben Hogan, thereby denying the great man a record fifth Open title.

Meanwhile, another US Open has come and gone without a European winner. The long wait since Tony Jacklin prevailed at Hazeltine in 1970 continues and while Lee Westwood, especially, and the remarkably consistent Robert Karlsson and Miguel-Angel Jimenez, to a lesser extent, gave it their best shot, it wasn’t enough.

Westwood had the best chance and was bitterly disappointed at failing to at least get into the play-off. At least he hung in there to the death — by which stage there was no sign of Pádraig Harrington, England’s Justin Rose, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald and even though Spain’s Sergio Garcia recovered bravely from falling four over par after six holes on Thursday, the winner of this year’s Players Championship was never a factor where winning was concerned.

They will all provide their excuses and their explanations but with the exception of Westwood, none were in contention to follow the lead set by Harrington at Carnoustie last July. And to a man, each promises that they would do so!

And what about Pádraig himself? Finishing very much among the also rans in a tie for 36th on nine over par wasn’t what he had planned and he has good reason to sit down and ponder what went wrong at Torrey Pines. Obviously, nobody can expect to win a major championship when they run up five double bogeys in the first three rounds and it’s a trap he falls into far too often in these events. Even when he won the Open last year, he twice doubled the 18th at Carnoustie.

“I will sit back and look at it and appraise my attitude,” he said. “I can’t say I’m disappointed. I can’t kick myself for not winning one of the three majors after Carnoustie. I’ll wait for my turn to come around.

“I’ll now work towards Birkdale and the defence of the Open. I’ve been planning on playing the Irish PGA Championship the week before just as I did last year although I hear there’s no sponsor and it could be in doubt. But nobody told me anything different.”

Harrington also agreed that he needs to get a few good results quickly if he is to clinch his European Ryder Cup place.

“I’m well aware of the situation,” he admitted. “I haven’t picked up any significant numbers even though I think I’ve at least top tenned every tournament from the end of September to the start of the year. Finishing a shot behind the lead at Memphis and picking up only 10 points wasn’t great. But that changes, you have one week and you win 50 points and it’s rosy.”


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