It was extraordinarily painful to watch. Adam Scott, the 13th ranked player in the world, had a 4 shot lead at the Open Championship being played at Royal Lytham and St. Annes with 4 holes to play. His closest pursuer was Ernie Els who last won a major tournament a decade ago.
In a matter of half an hour, Scott had bogied 4 straight holes while Els, who birdied the 18th to finish the day at 7 under par for the tournament, could only marvel at his good fortune — while feeling for Scott and his historic collapse.
“I’m a little numb at the moment,” said Els, who was on the practice green behind the clubhouse when he won. “First of all, I feel for Adam Scott. He’s a great friend of mine. Obviously, we both wanted to win very badly. But you know, that’s the nature of the beast. That’s why we’re out here. You win, you lose.
“It was my time for some reason.”
The wind finally arrived off the Irish Sea and ushered in pure chaos — a mental blunder by Tiger Woods that led to triple bogey on the sixth hole, a lost ball by Brandt Snedeker that took him out of contention and a topped shot that made former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell look like an amateur.
Nothing was more stunning that what happened to Scott.
He failed to get up-and-down from a bunker on the 15th. With a wedge in his hand in the 16th fairway, he went 30 feet long and missed a 3-foot par putt. From the fairway on the 17th, he pulled his approach into thick grass left of the green. And on the final hole, he hit 3-wood near the face of a pot bunker.
Scott still had a chance to force extra holes with a strong shot into 7 feet on the 18th for par. The putt stayed left the entire way. His chin buckled, and it looked as if he might start crying on the green. He composed himself and mouthed one word: “Wow.”
“Wow,” indeed. Scott is one of those players that golf pundits have dubbed “Best Player Never to Win a Major.” There is no doubting the young man’s talent or work ethic. But when a young golfer who has never won a major tournament is in the lead during the final round, and makes that last turn on the 9th hole toward glory and immortality, the gut tightens, the muscles twitch, and it becomes difficult to breathe. Golf, a game that demands control and patience, can become a nightmare when you lose both.
Scott lived that nightmare, and will probably continue to do so for a very long time.
For Ernie Els, most observers believed that at age 42, his best golf was behind him. Injury and inconsistency had haunted his game the last 5 years, but the man they call “The Big Easy” because of his tall frame and graceful, effortless swing, proved many doubters wrong. He played a masterful final round, shooting a 2 under par 68 when most of the rest of the field struggled. His course management was superb, taking what Royal Latham was giving while his solid putting got him out of trouble several times.
In 1999, Frenchman Jean Van de Velde went into the final hole of The Open with a 3 shot lead. He scored a triple bogey 7 which forced a playoff that he eventually lost. “Maybe it was asking too much for me,” Van de Velde said.
Scott won’t admit it, but the same could be said of him.