Ernie Els kept feeling that something special could happen at the British Open, and it did. But only after a collapse by Adam Scott that no one imagined.
Four shots ahead with four holes to play — after eight straight holes with nothing worse than par — Scott bogeyed them all and had to fight back tears on the 18th green Sunday as the magnitude of his meltdown began to sink in.
Els, who started the final round six shots behind, finished off a flawless back nine with a 15-foot birdie putt for a 2-under 68 that looked like it would do little more than lock up another runner-up finish at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Instead, he wound up with his second British Open — the other one was 10 years ago at Muirfield — and fourth major championship at a stage in his career when it seemed as though his best golf was behind him.
The celebration was muted, unlike his other three majors.
“I’m a little numb at the moment,” Els said, 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 mind. 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 like he might start crying on the green. He composed himself and mouthed one word. “Wow.”
“I had it in my hands with four to go,” Scott said. “I managed to hit a poor shot on each of the closing four holes. Look, I played so beautifully for most of the week. I shouldn’t let this bring me down.”
Even so, it added another chapter to Australian heartbreak, most of that belonging to his idol, Greg Norman.