Garcia chalks up loss to bad breaks

7/22/2007 - Golf

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- Golf is a four-letter word, a game colorfully described in unprintable fashion. It tortures and torments. It frustrates and frazzles. It can make grown men cry.

Or whine.

Sergio Garcia was understandably upset Sunday after he had seen the Claret Jug slip from his grasp. The 136th British Open was there for the taking, a first major title for the Spaniard all but secured. A score of 72 at benign Carnoustie would have done it on a day when nearly all the other contenders broke par.

But Garcia shot 2-over-par 73, including a bogey at the treacherous 18th where somehow his par putt for victory stayed out of the hole. He then lost to Padraig Harrington in a four-hole aggregate playoff, during which his approach to the par-3 16th hit the flagstick and -- instead of dropping into the hole for an ace -- bounced 20 feet away.

"It's not the first time, unfortunately," Garcia said. "I don't know … I'm playing against a lot of guys out there, more than the field."

Otherwordly forces notwithstanding, this was a crushing defeat and Garcia probably needs some time to decompress. But in the moments after his loss, he acted as though he's the only player ever to get hosed. And it doesn't bode well for his future pursuit of major titles if he simply chalks up this loss to his unlucky ways.

Garcia has gone down this path before, famously wondering at the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage whether Tiger Woods would have had to play in the same rain he did for most of the first round. The implication was that officials might have called play if Woods had been on the course. Sergio came off like a brat.

But that was five years ago, and many chalked it up to immaturity.

Now he ought to know better.

Bad breaks? No doubt, he had his share. But wonder how Andres Romero feels about his second shot on the 17th hole that barely missed clearing the burn, but somehow ricocheted directly to the right and out of bounds? Or what about Harrington, whose tee shot at the home hole narrowly missed bouncing across a bridge to safety only to find the burn? Or Ernie Els, who missed a playoff by two strokes and is wondering how a couple of back-nine putts stayed out of the hole?

Golf happens.

It is a game of bad breaks, of cruel bounces, of putts that spin out of the cup. At 27, Garcia is a veteran of eight years of professional golf's highs and lows. Now 0-for-36 in major championships, this was his eighth top-five finish. He might consider it unlucky that in six of those, Woods was the winner.

But Woods was nowhere in sight Sunday and Garcia was paired with Steve Stricker, a 40-year-old journeyman who had not won in six years and has had a recent history of letting tournaments slip away.

Garcia should have considered that a very good break.

Instead, after a birdie at the third hole gave him a four-shot lead, he made bogeys at the fifth, seventh and eighth holes to let the world back into the tournament. Were all those bogeys bad luck? And was it Garcia's misfortune that while he was struggling, players such as Romero, Richard Green, Els and Harrington were surging?

"It's tough, mainly because I don't feel like I did do anything wrong," Garcia said. "I didn't miss a shot in the playoff and hit unbelievable putts. But they just didn't go in.

"I don't know how I manage to do these things. It seems to me like every time I get in this kind of position, I have no room for error. … And I rarely get many good breaks. The birdie I made on No. 3, I made out of a divot in the fairway … and then I had putts … they all touched the hole."

Few are going to feel sorry for him because the game's past is littered with players who suffered a cruel fate on the final day of the major. Harrington, for one, knew what was at stake after he hit two balls in the burn at the 18th to make a double-bogey and seemingly cough up the tournament.

"If Sergio parred the last and I did lose, I think I would have struggled to come back out and be a competitive golfer," Harrington said. "It meant that much to me."

Garcia did not offer up the same kind of honesty afterward. For one, he is eight years younger than Harrington and will have plenty more opportunities. He is too good a player not to keep contending in majors. This is far from the one-shot opportunity blown by Jean Van de Velde here eight years ago or any number of players who might have seen such a chance as their only one.

But history will remember this as a tournament Garcia should have won. When you lead by three heading into the final round of a major championship and your nearest competitor posts one shot worse, you should win. When another player you are tied with finishes double-bogey, bogey, you should win. And when the one you ultimately face in a playoff makes a double-bogey at the final hole after an otherwise spectacular round of golf, you should win.

Losing the British Open on Sunday wasn't easy for Sergio Garcia. Now comes the really hard part. Dealing with it.

Bob Harig is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.