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Brief brush with glory

Published Sep. 3, 2005

The scene at Muirfield's 17th hole Sunday was among the most memorable of the British Open, even if it did tend to get overshadowed by Ernie Els' playoff victory.

Had it not been for the futile attempt to find Gary Evans' ball in the brutal rough, perhaps it would have been the Englishman who hoisted the Claret Jug.

We will never for know, but after he holed an improbable 50-foot par putt after declaring his lost ball, Evans was not the same for the experience. He fist-pumped on the green and screamed into a BBC camera that he did it for his mother. But he was spent.

On the next hole, Evans couldn't hit the ball on the clubface, made bogey, shot 65 _ and missed the playoff by one stroke.

Then he spilled his guts, showing how tough it is to compete in such a championship when you're an average guy struggling to keep up with the best players in the world.

"Every kid wants to play the British Open," Evans said. "It means so much just to qualify. It's pretty tough for us more human golfers to get in."

Evans, a nonwinner in 10 seasons on the European PGA Tour, acted almost surprised that he got into contention. And when on the verge, he struggled over the last two holes.

"It is so difficult to try and hold it together," he said. "I mean these guys, these top guys, the (Nick) Faldos how these guys hit these shots, I don't know. It's a different world to me."

Evans is a good friend of South Africa's Retief Goosen, who last year three-putted the 72nd green at the U.S. Open to drop into a playoff, then won the next day. Evans was watching the tournament and could not believe his eyes. He felt almost the same pain.

Then, playing a practice round last week at Muirfield with Goosen, he daydreamed about a positive outcome.

"We were walking up the 18th and I said imagine what it must be like coming up here on Sunday with the crowd and everything," Evans said. "It's just the almighty buzz. I'll never get a buzz bigger than that. Bungee jumps, jumping out of planes, you can keep it. When you have 15,000, 20,000 people clapping their hands for you it's just frightening. It really is. It gives you such a feeling of worth. People actually want you do well."

It's just a shame those same people weren't able to help Evans find his ball.

LONG WAIT: Despite acclaim for standing up to the world's greatest players, Muirfield is not likely to host another Open Championship for 10 years. The Open was played at the course in Gullane, Scotland, in 1987 and 1992.

"As Muirfield, like most others on the rota, is a private members' club, maybe that isn't a bad gap to have between Opens when you think of all the upheaval that comes with the championship," said Peter Dawson, secretary of the Royal & Ancient, which runs the Open.

The tournament basically goes to St. Andrews every five years, making it difficult for the other venues to get the tournament sooner than 10 years. Next year's Open is at Royal St. George's in Sandwich, England. Seven other courses are part of the rota: St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Troon, Turnberry, Royal Lytham, Royal Birkdale and Hoylake.

FRENCH FOLLIES: Jean Van de Velde has company. The Frenchman who blew the 1999 Open at Carnoustie when he failed to play safe on the 72nd hole despite a three-shot lead saw countryman Thomas Levet pull a similar stunt Sunday.

Twice Levet played driver off the 18th tee _ the smart call is to hit an iron or fairway wood _ and drove into a bunker. Once was when he held a one-shot lead in the aggregate playoff. The other time was in sudden death. He bogeyed both times.

RETURN TICKET: Scott Hoch was the lone American in the top 13, but he may not take advantage of his exemption to next year's Open. Hoch, who tied for eighth, has played the tournament five times in his 23-year career. For what it's worth, the nine players on the European Ryder Cup team who made the cut were a combined 28 strokes better than the nine American Ryder Cup players who made the cut. Another "Battle at Bighorn" takes place Monday night. This time it's Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus vs. Sergio Garcia and Lee Trevino. There was a lot of talk about the male-only membership policy at Muirfield. Well, the same policy is in place at the next Open venues: Royal St. George's (2003) and Royal Troon (2004).

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