Open Countdown: Muirfield 2002

By: Golf Shake | Tue 02 Jul 2013 | Comments

Derek Clements looks back to the 2002 Open Championship when it was last played at Muirfield.

TIGER WOODS was at the peak of his powers when The Open was last played at Muirfield in 2002. So much so that Ernie Els had admitted that he didn't think he was good enough to stand up to the American. And, indeed, the South African had consistently proved that Woods had his number by failing to look him in the eye and beat him in a strokeplay event at which they were both in contention.

Ernie ElsMind you, Els wasn't the only one. Colin Montgomerie had also said that whenever he saw the name Woods on the leaderboard he felt as though he was playing for second place.

Then came the third round of The Open in 2002. The wind came howling in from the North Sea and the rain hammered down.

And Woods, who had been nicely placed after 36 holes, shot an 81. Those who witnessed it could not believe what they were seeing. Here was the best player in the world, by a mile, unable to cope with typical Open conditions.

Afterwards he was utterly shell-shocked, realising that his chances of victory had gone. Monty fared even worse, signing for an 84. All around the course there was carnage. Nick Price took 75, Padraig Harrington 76.

But there were notable exceptions. Justin Rose somehow got the ball round in 68, as did Peter Lonard and Steve Elkington of Australia. David Duval, the defending champion (remember him?) took 70 and Greg Norman a 71.

Els, meanwhile, kept his cool and negotiated Muirfield in 72 strokes to move into the lead. On the final day, when conditions were rather more benign, the big South African added a 70 to finish on 278. But it wasn't good enough as Thomas Levet, Stuart Appleby and Elkington finished with rounds of 66, 65 and 66 respectively to join The Big Easy.

To his eternal credit, Woods also finished with a 65 to end the championship six shots behind the leaders, and one behind Rose.

So off they went for a four-hole playoff. At the end of it, Appleby and Elkington were both one over par and were eliminated, and so it all came down to sudden death between Els and the irrepressible Levet.

The pair had to play the 18th hole for the third time in the day. Both men struggled to find the green with Levet trapped in a fairway bunker and Els finding sand by the green.

Levet's long par putt stayed above the hole and he had to settle for a bogey five. It left Els with a four foot putt which he rolled in for a par and his third major, to add to two US Open victories.

And three became four when he outlasted the unfortunate Adam Scott to win at Lytham last year.

Who is to say that Big Ernie will not successfully defend his title? He loves Muirfield, he loves The Open and he has just won in Germany so he is bang in form.

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Derek Clements is a sports journalist with a particular passion for golf with over 12 years of experience covering golf and other sports including Chief Sub-Editor on the sports desk of The Sunday Times. To contact Derek email direct via [email protected]

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