With a four-shot lead with four holes to play at Roya Lythan & St Annes Sunday, the British Open was over. Only it wasn’t over. If that sounds confusing, imagine what Adam Scott felt like watching Ernie Els hoist the coveted Claret Jug.
There have been major championship collapses before, and there will be others. But Scott, with Tiger Woods’ old caddie Steve Williams on his bag, did Sunday will be remembered for a head-shaking long time.
He had played masterfully the entire Open Championship, and was in total command to secure his first major title. Meanwhile, Els, who opened the day six shots back, played the best round of the day, firing a 68, including an 15-foot birdie on 18 to move to 7-under for the tournament.
As inspiring as Els’ play was, it just did not appear to be enough to overtake Scott, who was performing with commendable calm and efficiency.
But it is hard to calculate how pressure impacts a player, and the magnitude of the moment seemed to break Scott. He bogeyed No. 15, 16 and 17. And when he missed a 10-foot par putt on 18, he fell to 6-under and had to fight back tears.
His meltdown was complete, and Els had captured his fourth major.
“I’m a little numb at the moment,” said Els, who was on the practice green behind the clubhouse when Scott failed to force a playoff. “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 Woods, who finished third at 3-under — 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.
Still, nothing was more stunning than what happened to Scott. “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.”
How could he not. It was a worldwind of errors the cost him. 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 cry on the green. He composed himself and mouthed one word: “Wow.”