PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. - Gregory Havret almost didn’t make it to the U.S. Open.
Late last month, he nailed an improbable 50-foot putt to get into a six-man playoff at an Open qualifier in England, then later sank a 20-footer to secure one of the final five spots in the 156-player field for Pebble Beach.
And what an Open debut he had as someone few would have picked to contend — or even make the cut to play on the weekend.
On Sunday, the little-known Havret finished an impressive runner-up to Graeme McDowell. Havret played his final round, a 1-over 72, with top-ranked Tiger Woods and a gallery of thousands who had no choice but to discover who he is.
Not bad for the 33-year-old Frenchman ranked 391st in the world who hadn’t finished higher than 10th in any European Tour event this year.
“All of a sudden I’m playing a Sunday with Tiger. It was very exciting,” Havret said afterward, balancing the emotions of being thrilled and disheartened at the same time. “I knew I had some chances and I did everything thinking I was able to win it. It’s a shame I came up short. ... It’s fantastic emotion, in between the best surprise of my life and the best disappointment, too. But for sure, to play golf like this, compete for the title (is great).”
He shot 1-over 285 for the tournament, one stroke behind McDowell.
Havret’s round began in encouraging fashion. He made birdies on 1 and 6 before recording three bogeys on the final 11 holes, including at the troublesome 17th.
Then, Havret needed a birdie on the par-5 18th to pull even with McDowell and force McDowell to birdie 18 and avoid a playoff. Havret pulled his 8-foot birdie putt left and below the hole.
“Well, that’s a very bad putt. Probably the worst of the week,” Havret said.
There weren’t many mistakes.
“He played beautifully today, he played beautifully,” Woods said. “He did everything he needed to do to win a championship. He hung in there and grinded. He was placing the ball in the correct spots. When he did miss, he missed in great spots and left himself with all the green to work with.”
Countryman Jean Van de Velde knows all too well about near-misses at a major.
Van de Velde walked on to the tee of the 72nd hole of the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie needing only a double-bogey 6 to take home the claret jug.
Instead, Van de Velde made an excruciating triple-bogey, hitting one shot off the bleachers, dumping another into the Barry Burn and dropping yet another into a bunker before finally sinking a 6-foot putt for a 7 that put him into a three-man playoff with Paul Lawrie and Justin Leonard.
Lawrie ended up winning and Van de Velde became a punchline for all late collapses on the golf course.
At least Havret’s second place provided France with something to celebrate on a weekend in which its World Cup fortunes were all but sunk in South Africa. Les Bleus — embarrassed and underachieving with a draw and a loss so far — refused to train Sunday in protest of striker Nicolas Anelka’s expulsion from the squad, prompted by a profanity-laced tirade against coach Raymond Domenech the day before.
Havret seemed happy to provide a boost — not only for his country but for his golf future. A golfer since being encouraged to play by his father at age 10, Havret’s first title came in 2001 at the Italian Open and his biggest when he defeated then-world No. 3 Phil Mickelson in a playoff for the 2007 Scottish Open at Loch Lomond. That victory helped him break into the top-20 of the Order of Merit for the first time.
It was Havret who in the late 90s won three straight French Amateur titles just shortly after Woods burst onto the scene by winning three in a row at the U.S. Amateur from 1994-96.
Havret went to bed Saturday night determined to keep his performance in perspective, while also relishing a rare chance to play alongside Woods on golf’s big stage.
“I was very excited. I slept beautifully,” Havret said. “I woke up this morning very nicely, happy to play golf at a beautiful site with the best player in the world. When you look at him on TV and see what he’s doing, it’s always exciting to see that from very close and compare yourself to him. It was a very good experience.”
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