Another Jug for Ernie
Adam Scott had been in command of the Open Championship for most of the first 68 holes. The 32 year Australian, who many regard as having the finest swing in the game today, seemed finally ready to claim his first Major Championship.
Paired with Graeme McDowell in the final pairing on Sunday, Scott’s day began shakily as he missed a two foot putt on the first hole to make a bogey. He immediately righted the ship however, by hitting a superb approach shot to the second hole and making a comeback birdie. This year’s Open venue, Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s, had been at its most benign for the first three days of the Open, but today as the wind started blowing in from the Irish Sea, this classic links course began to bare its teeth. At one point no-one in the final twenty pairings was under par for the day.
Scott though, seemed to be in complete control of both his game and the tournament.
A triple bogey 6 derailed Tiger Woods on the sixth hole and while he would record his best finish in a Major since he was the runner up to YE Yang, at the PGA Championship in 2009, he was never really a factor again. Other contenders also fell victim to the wind and the diabolical bunkering. There are a staggering 206 bunkers (most of which are shaped like a deep soup bowl) spread across the par 70 course. They routinely and quite literally bring the best players in the world to their knees. One by one the pretenders fell by the wayside. McDowell, who had begun the day as Scott’s closest pursuer and four shots back, played some uncharacteristically careless shots and would go on to shoot a 5 over par 75.
Brant Snedeker, the affable 32 year old American, who had led after two rounds would also eventually fade away and finish in a tie for third with Woods.
Starting the day at 5 under par and 6 shots behind Scott, 3-time Major Champion, Ernie Els, was playing steady if not spectacular golf. Els played his front 9 in two over par before birdieing 3 of the next 5 holes. A short missed putt for another birdie on the short 16th would seem to have left the sweet swinging South African as a bridesmaid yet again in a Major Championship. The 42 year old Els’ swing has remained one of the games’ best for 20 years, but his putting has let him down on so many occasions during the last 10 years. It would seem that would be the case once again.
Standing on the 15th tee, Scott held a commanding 4 shot lead, and the Claret Jug seemed to have his name already on it. In fact, the engraver had begun to draw the outline of his name which he would have to permanently mark in less than an hour. Scott would bogey the difficult 15th but still have a 3 shot lead on the easiest hole on the course, the short par-4, and 16th hole. He played the hole conservatively and after his approach shot landed 20 feet from the hole, he seemed certain to make an easy par. He shockingly missed a two foot putt for par and the lead was down to two.
Meanwhile, Els had split the fairway with his drive on the final hole and carved a superb wedge to 16 feet. For once his putter did not let him down and with a perfect stroke, the ball never looked like it was going anywhere but the bottom of the hole, which it did. And just like that, the “Big Easy” was only one shot behind. After a great drive on the 17th hole Scott over-hooked his second shot into the deep rough behind the green. An explosion shot 20 feet from the hole and two putts later, he would now be tied with Els. Scott’s 3 wood tee shot on the last hole found its way into the face of one the aforementioned bunkers. He would be forced to play a shot sideways onto the fairway. To his credit, Scott would hit a superb approach shot to within 7 feet of the hole. Should he make it, he and Els would head to a 3 hole playoff. His putt slid by the left side of the hole.
This will go down as one the epic collapses in Major Championship history, which is a sad testament to the brilliant Aussie. Even Els, with whom he is great friends, seemed almost apologetic in his victory speech, when he said “Sorry,” looking at Scott. “You’re a great player, a great friend of mine. I feel very fortunate. You’re going to win many of these.”
It would remind us of the heartbreaks suffered at so many Championships by Scott’s boyhood idol and fellow Australian, Greg Norman, who Scott would acknowledge with his gracious speech when he said “Greg was my hero when I was a kid, and I thought he was a great role model, how he handled himself in victory and defeat. He set a good example for us. It’s tough. I can’t justify anything that I’ve done out there. I didn’t finish the tournament well today. But next time — I’m sure there will be a next time, and I can do a better job of it.” I think that we all hope that there will be a next time for Scott.
For Els, this is a triumphant return to the center of the world’s golf stage. It will be his second Claret Jug that will go along nicely with his two US Open Championships, making him a member of a rare club of players who have won the two oldest Major Championships multiple times.
Golf once again showed us that we should take nothing for granted. That perseverance does indeed payoff. And that one should always expect the unexpected.