Muirfield — 2002

Ernie Els cradles the trophy after winning the play-off at MuirfieldFour-man playoff decides tense Open Championship

The Open Championship returned to Muirfield in 2002. The competition began in bright, warm weather, allowing 37 golfers to break par 71 and 22 to score in the 60s. David Toms, fellow American Duffy Waldorf and Swede Carl Pettersson, who had never played a links course before, scored 67 to take first place and veteran Open golfer Sandy Lyle went round in 68. Justin Rose and Shigeki Maruyama from Japan were also a stroke off the lead. Not everyone enjoyed such a promising start. Woods had a frustrating round, finding trouble in the long grass on the first hole, and scoring 70. David Duval also had a luckless round and finished with 72. Similarly, Montgomerie finished down the field with a score of 74.

The second day was another where low scoring prevailed. Colin Montgomerie played outstanding golf, going round in 64, which included an eagle and five birdies. Just under half the field went round in par or under. This included Ernie Els, who had an excellent first nine holes and shot to the top of the table with 66, tying with six others. Pettersson stayed up in tied sixth with a round of 70. Woods had a better day, with a score of 68, only two strokes off the lead. After a promising start in the first round, David Toms shot 75, dropping to 43rd position.

The third day brought the miserable wet and cold conditions for which this particular Open Championship would be remembered. The weather was kinder to the early starters. Justin Rose and Justin Leonard, who ended on 68 and tied 27th place, thought they were out of the challenge but by the end of the day their score had ensured them joint 3rd position. Going out later in the day in the worst of the weather, Woods, Montgomerie and Toms had miserable rounds, Woods shooting 81, and the highest score of his professional career. The best of the group were Els, who scored 72, and Padraig Harrington and Des Smyth, who took it in turn to lead throughout the day. In the end it was Els who finished with a tenuous two stroke lead.

On the final day, Els was on his way to winning The Open, when a mistake at the 16th hole cost him a precious stroke and put him one behind those who had played blistering rounds ahead of him. He saved himself with a birdie at the 17th, but could only finish on 278, not enough to take the title. The day had produced astonishing last minute challenges. Stuart Appleby had gone round in 65, Steve Elkington and Frenchman Thomas Levet had scored 66 and Harrington was also in contention with 67, though a bogey at the 18th meant he would finish a stroke off the lead. Englishman Gary Evans had the round of his career, taking the lead at the 11th but losing it soon after. Even Woods redeemed himself, with a 65. By the end, however, four men had a score of 268, Els, Elkington, Levet and Appleby. The first ever four man, four-hole playoff in The Open Championship followed.

The action was tense. Appleby bogeyed the 16th and 18th holes and Elkington the 1st and 18th, so their birdies at the 17th meant they finished one over par. Els played steadily, with pars at every hole, while Frenchman Levet provided true Open drama, with a birdie at the 16th and a bogey at the 18th, also finishing even and producing a sudden death play off with Els. Levet found a fairway bunker at the18th, and Els found one by the green. It was Els, however, who held his nerve, playing out of the bunker and onto the green, landing just four feet from the hole. Levet missed his seven-foot putt and Els placed his ball securely in the hole, becoming the relieved and rightful Open Champion of 2002.

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