Ernie Els could sympathize with Adam Scott after his friend’s late collapse handed him the British Open championship.
Els won golf’s oldest major by one shot yesterday after Scott bogeyed the final four holes at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in northwest England. It gave the South African his second Open title and fourth major championship.
“I really feel for my buddy Scotty,” Els said at a news conference. “I’ve been there before. I’ve blown majors before and golf tournaments before. I just hope he doesn’t take it as hard as I did.”
Scott, 32, appeared to be headed for his first major title as he held a four-shot lead with four holes to play. The run of bogeys, combined with a 15-foot birdie putt by Els on the final hole, snatched it away from him.
Els shot 2-under-par 68 in the final round and made four birdies over the final nine holes, including at 18, to finish with a 7-under-par total of 273. Australia’s Scott had his worst round of the tournament with 75 after shooting in the 60s the first three days.
“I know I’ve let a really great chance slip through my fingers,” Scott told reporters. “Somehow I’ll look back and take the positives from it. I don’t think I’ve ever played this well in a major championship.”
Els is the 16th different player to win in the past 16 majors. His victory ends a run of nine straight first-time champions at golf’s four biggest events. He’s the second straight 42-year-old to win the Open after Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland.
Els also won the tournament in 2002. It’s the second- longest gap between victories at the Open behind Henry Cotton, who went 11 years after his 1937 win.
“I’m still numb,” said Els, who also has two U.S. Open titles. “I haven’t been in this position in 10 years, so it’s just crazy, crazy, crazy getting here.”
Els started play on the last day six shots behind Scott and bogeyed the second and ninth holes to fall to 3 under. He began his charge with a birdie at the 10th and followed with two more at the 12th and 14th to move into second place at 6-under.
After three straight pars, he rolled in the birdie putt on 18 that brought a roar from the crowd. He then retreated to the practice putting green to wait for Scott, who was playing two groups behind, to finish.
“I just thought I’ll probably be disappointed again,” Els said. “You’re not hoping the guy is going to make a mistake, but you’re hoping you don’t have to go to a playoff, you can win outright.”
After getting to 10 under with a birdie on the 14th hole, Scott bogeyed the 15th. He missed a short par putt on the next hole, then pulled his approach shot to the 17th green left and made another bogey that dropped him into a tie with Els.
“It all comes down to the shot into 17 for me that I’m most disappointed with,” Scott said. “At that point I’m still well in control of the tournament. As I looked up and saw the line it was on, I knew it was riding the wind too early to hold its line. I knew it was in a bit of trouble.”
Now needing a birdie to win, he found a fairway bunker with his tee shot on 18. After chipping out of the sand, he hit his third shot to within 10 feet and pushed the putt that would have forced a playoff past the right edge of the hole.
Scott said Els had some words of encouragement when they spoke in the scorer’s trailer.
“He said he felt for me and not to beat myself up,” he said. “We have a close friendship. I respect Ernie a lot and he’s a player who is a worthy champion here for sure.”
Els said he’s sure Scott’s day at a major will come.
“Thankfully he’s young enough,” he said. “He’s 32 years old. He’s got the next 10 years. I’ve won four now. I think he can win more than that.”
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