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PRINT EDITION
Story of the year falls just short
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As wonderful as this British Open may have been for winner Francesco Molinari, who becomes the first Italian golfer to claim a major tournament victory, his is not the biggest story coming out of Carnoustie. That honour goes to Tiger Woods
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By CATHAL KELLY
  
  

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Monday, July 23, 2018 – Page B10

TORONTO -- British golfer Ed Pepperell didn't win The Open Championship on Sunday, but came remarkably close given his approach to the final round.

"I won't lie. I had too much to drink last night," Pepperell said afterward, still looking a little worse for wear.

Certain he'd already lost, Pepperell arrived early in the morning after a long night with a terrible hangover.

He posted a best-in-field four-under for the day.

He spent the rest of the afternoon within a couple of shots of the lead.

He finished tied for sixth.

"It's a funny game," Pepperell said.

True. Golf has rarely seemed funnier than it did on Sunday at Carnoustie.

They've been playing on that coastal corner of Scotland since the 1500s. That may also be the last time they updated the course.

Burnt out, bunkers like bomb craters and as windswept as the deck of an ocean trawler - Carnoustie looks more like a well-manicured landfill than a golf shrine. It regularly appears on lists of the world's hardest courses.

On Sunday, that difficulty briefly made the sport narratively perfect.

The kid crumbled, the old man suddenly reappeared and the hottest, unlikeliest golfer in the world won in the end. A halfhour before they called it, you could still see it going a half-dozen different ways.

As a result, this year's British Open wasn't just another major tournament. It was an all-star game/tribute concert. It was a reminder that golf is most enjoyable to watch when the course is kicking the hell out of the players. It prevents triumphal marches.

The winner was 35-year-old Francesco Molinari. He becomes the first Italian to take a major.

If you don't follow the sport closely, your reaction to that result is probably, "Francesco who?" Until recently, Molinari was the sort of player who makes a nice living off the game, but never wins anything. He had only three titles in a 13-year career, all of them on the European Tour.

But then, according to Molinari, he got hooked up with the right sports psychologist and everything clicked. He won his first PGA Tour event three weeks ago, came second in one two weeks later and now this.

Let this be a lesson to the rest of us - less time in the gym; more time on the couch.

As wonderful as that is, that's not the story coming out of Carnoustie. It's Tiger Woods. He's not quite back yet, but he's as close as he has been in a very long time.

Woods comfortably made Saturday's cut, which already seemed like a species of victory. He hadn't made one of those at The Open in five years. He hasn't won the tournament in a dozen.

When people speculated on where Woods might finally rediscover his winning form, it was thought his best chance was somewhere in the United States on a pristine course that didn't punish his lack of polish. That thinking proved awfully resilient considering how poorly Woods continued to play.

After teasing in the early going at this year's Masters and then falling off badly toward the end, everyone on Tiger Watch finally got tired and gave up. This week in Scotland, the 42-year-old was fêted more like a former great than one still at work.

Freed of some pressure, Woods woke up on Saturday. On Sunday morning, he was four shots off the lead - a position from which he'd never won a major.

And then the old Woods re-emerged. You could see it in his body language - chin up, the carriage now fully erect, no slumping of the shoulders after swings.

At the turn, as others stumbled, Woods found himself in the lead. He put a ball into one of those mid-fairway trenches and punched it out with such power that the club blurred.

"Is this the year 2000?!" one of the commentators shrieked.

Out of nowhere, the biggest sports story of the year was taking shape. Some day, they were going to make a film out of this.

It fell apart on 11 and 12 - Woods's ambition lapping his middle-aged ability - but it was all there for a moment. He finished at five-under, tied for sixth.

Tiger Watch is back on now and probably won't end until he retires.

For a long time there, Woods's insistence on continuing to play professionally was Sisyphean. After a while, it also seemed like hubris.

Why wouldn't he just leave and enjoy the spoils? Why did he insist on tarnishing his legacy by tacking so many mediocre seasons onto the end of it?

He showed why on Sunday. They had this man in the professional grave and, for about an hour there, he commenced banging on the coffin lid.

"This links golf is something else," Woods said afterward. He was smiling. He looked like someone having fun again.

Measured against Woods's revival was Jordan Spieth's recession.

Spieth had hoped to match Woods's record this week in Scotland - four majors before the age of 25. His birthday is next week.

He was the 54-hole leader.

He came apart on Sunday, failing to birdie and routinely missing gimme putts.

Maybe he should've had a few more adult beverages the night before.

It's a funny thing about golf - you can be doing pretty well, but if you are not hitting your own standard, people perceive that you are scuffling. Spieth is ranked sixth in the world, but his back-to-back majors in 2015 created the impression he couldn't lose.

Although he golfs all the time, he now only does it for real four times a year. Every failure at a major - anything less than victory is failure for Spieth - is marked against him.

Spieth is trapped somewhere between Woods at his best and Rory McIlroy during his wilderness years. He's the guy with all the talent who can't quite measure up.

Nobody will understand that feeling like Woods, although it took him a while to get there. Spieth is still looking to find his Zen.

You've achieved it when you realize that on some days, such as Sunday, golf is the greatest game. On every other day, it's a long and funny one.

Associated Graphic

Tiger Woods watches his second shot of the 12th hole at Carnoustie on the final day of the British Open in Scotland on Sunday.

HARRY HOW/GETTY IMAGES

Britain's Eddie Pepperell, who admits he was hungover on Sunday, consults his caddie on the 18th green.

ANDREW REDINGTON/GETTY IMAGES


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