ONCE AGAIN a South African has broken Australian golfing hearts with Ernie Els snatching an unlikely British Open win from a hapless Adam Scott.
“I had it in the palm of my hands with four holes to play,” a shattered Scott said minutes after missing a par putt on the 18th that would have forced a playoff.
That Scott was even in that position was incredible enough.
Scott went into the final round with a four stroke lead and continued the immaculate ball striking that had seen him lead the 141st running of The Open since the first day.
It was just the broomstick putter, the club that had transformed his game since he adopted it early last year, that wasn’t fully coming to the party.
Scott bogeyed the first but fought back with a birdie on two. From there it was an up and down round but no one else was making any serious moves either, and most were going backwards. That included his playing partner Graeme McDowell and the two following Americans Tiger Woods and Brandt Snedeker.
The only golfer having any success at all was 2002 champion Els, who still had a 1-over opening nine andat 3-under seemed too far behind Scott to be of any real concern.
On 14 Scott finally sunk a birdie putt and moved back to 10-under. With Els by then still back at 6-under the Australian appeared to have the tournament by the throat.
All over Australia it was the wee small hours of the morning and golfers everywhere (at least those lucky enough to have Fox Sports) were on the edge of their seats. This would be the first Major win since 2006 and the first British Open in 19 years.
On the par four 15th Scott put his approach shot into one of Royal Lytham & St Annes’ notorious greenside bunkers.
Over on 18 a huge roar went up when Els sunk a 15 foot birdie putt to move to 7-under. He had come home with four birdies on his back nine to finish with a 68.
In Australia, heads started shaking and there were the first real signs of doubt and fear.
“I was hoping at best for a playoff,” Els admitted later. What the roar did to Scott’s nerves is anyone’s guess.
Scott failed to get up and down from what was a difficult but not impossible bunker shot. The resulting bogey put him back to 9-under and the gap to two.
On the 16th Scott’s drive found the middle of the fairway. The approach was straight and found the green. It was a little long but the putt looked innocuous enough. The first putt was perfectly weighted but finished a few feet left of the hole. The next putt was one Scott would have easily nailed on any other day of the tournament but the attempt lipped out. Another bogey and the gap was now just one stroke. Hearts sank. Many feared that missed tiddler of a putt could be a defining moment.
On the difficult driving 17th, Scott’s tee shot again found the centre of the fairway but his unlucky approach bounced into some thick greenside rough just inches from relative safety. Another bogey and scores were now level.
On 18 the Australian needed a par to force a playoff. Scott appeared a little shell-shocked but after being in a seemingly impregnable position who can blame him. His insides must have been churning.
Scott took a three-wood – maybe an overly aggressive decision but that is how he had successfully played the longer holes all week.
His drive found a fairway pot bunker and he had to chip out sideways.
It was a fine, straight wedge into the green, landing maybe 14 foot short.
The all-important par putt missed. There was much swearing in Australian households.
Golf can be such a cruel, bitch of a thing sometimes.
On the upside, Ernie looked particularly delighted. He gave a great, emotion-filled acceptance speech and accepted the Claret Jug with glee.
In perfect symmetry, next year he will defend his title at Muirfield, where he won the championship for the first time in 2002.
Els now has two British Opens and two US Opens in his trophy cabinet, while Scott has another Major second placing to go with the one inflicted by another South African, Charl Schwartzel, at the US Masters in 2011.
Australia has just one more opportunity this year – the US PGA Championship – to break was has become a very painful Major drought.2012 British Open Final Results