SOUTHPORT, England - Maybe it was the fact that the sun finally came out, but Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els discovered silver linings at the end of a disappointing week. Not so, Sergio Garcia.
Unfortunately for Mickelson, it appeared he was talking about his travels throughout Scotland and England when he said: "I've had an enjoyable couple weeks."
After closing with a 71 -294 yesterday, he conceded his play last week at the Scottish Open and here at Royal Birkdale left a lot to be desired. The lefthander at least had his best finish at Birkdale, a tie for 19th (he was T-73 in 1991 and T-76 in 1998), which he grabbed on to, given the ferocious winds that he often falters in.
"I probably hit it better in the wind than I ever have," said Mickelson, now 0 for 16 in British Open tries. "But it was a great test."
Els felt the same way, his final-round 69 providing encouragement for the season's next major, the PGA Championship in August.
"I'm doing quite a few things right," he said. "I'm going to work my tail off. I'll go see Butch [Harmon] for two days this week and sort out all the doubts I have in my technique."
At 12-over 292, Els was tied for seventh, his 11th top 10 in 18 British Open starts, but he knows he played himself out of the championship by shooting 9-over 45 on his back nine Thursday. "How do you come back from that?" he asked.
Showing not an ounce of fight, Garcia concluded a demoralizing week by taking 44 strokes on his final nine holes and with a 78 -297 he finished joint 51st, a year after losing in a playoff. Having attracted a good amount of the public money in the absence of Tiger Woods, Garcia was made the favorite by bookmakers in the United Kingdom, but he opened with a 72 in fairly good conditions Thursday afternoon and never got untracked.
"My body just didn't react to my thoughts," said Garcia. "I couldn't think straight and didn't make any good decisions."
He also didn't show any signs of a putting stroke that is reportedly much improved. Garcia made just six birdies, but more than that, he missed a bunch of short, par-saving attempts. In all, Garcia used the putter 122 times to rank 42d in the field. He also played the crucial stretch of 10, 11, and 12 in 8 over.
It would be rude to depart the Open Championship without checking in on Colin Montgomerie. What did he have to say for himself after shooting 76 -298 to finish joint 58th? "Driving home tonight I'll have a think, but there's nothing really I can take [from the week]. I had to drive the ball better, had to hit my irons better, my chipping and putting was poor." We'll take that to mean he wasn't happy with Open week, his 19th without winning . . . What's with Birkdale, British Opens, and these amateurs from England? In 1998 it was Justin Rose who finished joint fourth and turned professional the next day. No word on what Chris Wood's plans are, except to soak in the experience after his closing 72 -280 afforded him a share of fifth. A 20-year-old from Bristol, Wood won the Russian Amateur earlier this year. Similar to what Rose did in 1998, Wood had a hole-out from short and left of the 18th green, though it came in the second round and not the fourth. It was, however, one of the highlight shots to his week . . . One other amateur made the cut, Thomas Sherreard, whose final trip of 71 -294 included a chip-in for eagle at the 17th, then a birdie at the par-4 18th. "I think I could sell that for quite a bit of money," said Sherreard.
The top American was Jim Furyk, who shot his third 71 of the week to share fifth with Wood. It's Furyk's fourth top-five finish in 13 British Opens . . . Anthony Kim, 22, no doubt would have earned a return British Open trip in a number of other ways, but he definitely has one for being within the top 10. His first links experience was a solid one, as Kim shot 75 -292 to get into a nine-way tie for seventh . . . Jay Williamson played 1-under over his final 11 holes to leave his first British Open with a positive memory. Closing 74 -296, the onetime Trinity College standout wound up joint 39th. The other American who came over at the last minute, Heath Slocum, shot 72 -295 to finish T-32 . . . Davis Love continued to churn out pars in these major championships. He played his final 36 holes without a birdie at the US Open in San Diego, and played 72 holes this week with just three birdies. Love closed with a 75 -294 and tied for 19th in his 22d consecutive British Open.
With high winds having caused havoc in Saturday's third round, Royal & Ancient rules officials were issued a clarifier on balls that move while a player is setting up over a shot. Officials were told that if the ball moves after the player has addressed it, a penalty would be incurred. But if the ball moved while the player was in the process of taking his stance, there was more room for interpretation and there wouldn't necessarily be a penalty . . . For the final round, there was a blue sky and long stretches of sunshine. The wind was steady at 20-25 miles per hour, with occasional gusts from 30-35, but it didn't pack the fury of Saturday's storm . . . The international flavor was abundant, as seven countries were represented among the top 15 finishers.
No surprise, but the 499-yard, par-4 sixth once again ranked as the toughest hole, playing to a field average of 4.687 and for the four days, fewer birdies (10) were made there than on any other hole . . . The most difficult hole to birdie in Round 4, however, was the par-4 10th. Only Sean O'Hair turned the trick. The only birdies at the par-4 13th were made by winner Padraig Harrington and David Frost, while Camilo Villegas and Pablo Larrazabal made the only two birdies at the par-3 14th . . . There were four eagles made at the par-5 17th, one of them by Harrington, while Paul Casey made the only eagle at the par-5 15th . . . All week players would tell you how difficult a starting hole the 459-yard first was and the numbers tell the story: In Round 4, only 15.7 percent of the field hit the green in regulation.