Some tournaments are remembered for who won, while others are remembered for who lost. The 2012 Open Championship will be remembered for both. Adam Scott’s par putt slid by the cup on the 18th hole, giving Erne Els his fourth major victory. Els finished with a 2-under par 68 and a four-day total of 7-under 272. On day that had largely looked like a coronation for Scott’s first major title. He led by four strokes with four holes to play, but carded four straight bogeys on those holes to finish one stroke behind Els.
Els had played steady golf the entire week, evidenced by his ranking of first in greens hit in regulation. But the same shaky putting that had kept Els out of the winner’s circle in recent months seemed to have consigned him to the same fate at Royal Lytham and St. Annes. But Els carded birdies on Nos. 10, 12 14 and 18 to put pressure on Scott.
Els’ stellar final round came on a day when the wind made its first appearance of the week and inflated the scores of the leaders. Brandt Snedeker and Graeme McDowell came into the final round four shots behind Scott, but could not gain any ground on him. Snedeker played the middle six holes in 4-over par to finish in a tie for third place at 3-under 277, while McDowell posted seven bogeys to only finish T5 at 2-under 278.
Perhaps the most disappointed golfer in the field other than Scott was Tiger Woods. Woods started the day five shots off the lead and appeared that he would have to shoot a career round to put himself into contention. But the leaders began backing up, opening a window of opportunity for Woods to nab his 15th major championship and first since 2008. Woods posted a run of pars through the first five holes, but it was at the sixth hole that he really lost his chance, carding a disastrous triple-bogey 7 on a hole that he had birdied the three previous days. Showing his usual never say die competitive spirit, Woods grinded until the end but was never a serious threat, finishing tied for third with Snedeker.
For Els, it was the reward for a very public battle to reclaim a place among the world’s elite golfers. Els had suffered through swings changes that came as a result of knee and back injuries. In addition, Els faced the disappointment of not qualifying for the Masters this year, the first time since 1993 that the spring classic did not have the Big Easy in the field. The organizers could have invited him but declined to do so. Spurred on by the slight, Els rededicated himself to regaining his form and winning his second Open Championship gave a clear signal to the golf world that the Els Renaissance is in full flower. In winning, Els also placed himself in a very select group as one of only two players to have won majors in three decades in the modern era, joining countryman Gary Player. And of course, he is automatically qualified for the 2013 Masters.
In post-round interviews, both players acknowledged the gravity of Scott’s collapse.
“I’m numb,” Els said. “It feels great to win of course, but I feel bad for my buddy [Scott]. I hate that this had to happen to him; I feel for him.”
For his part, Scott put a positive spin on the shocking events of the day but was unable to hide his disappointment.
“I had a four shot lead with four to play and simply hit a bad shot on each of those four,” Scott said. I’m very disappointed, but I did play beautifully for most of the week and that’s what I have to take away.”
With a shrug, Scott said “That’s golf, isn’t it?”
That indeed is golf, or at least the part of it that keeps fans playing and watching the best in the world play the game. For Ernie Els, it is a day to remember. For Scott, hopefully, it is a day that he can forget.