Ecstasy and Agony at Royal Lytham
BY Bruce Young | European PGA Tour | 2012 The Open Championship | Wrap | 23 Jul 2012
Ernie Els is the Open Champion for 2012 after Royal Lytham & St Annes’ notorious finishing stretch and the pressure of closing out a major championship destroyed Australian Adam Scott’s chances of adding a major to his already illustrious career.
After two early bogeys had been separated by a birdie at the second, the four shot 54 hole leader Scott appeared to be the only player amongst the genuine contenders to be handling the more demanding conditions on day four as the field made the turn.
Scott had also bogeyed the 6th but the manner in which he was finding fairways and greens through the middle of his round suggested the mind and the body were working in unison and that this would be his moment.
When Els made the turn in two over, he trailed Scott by six but the demanding back nine at Royal Lytham and St Annes lay ahead and while appearing comfortable with the lead he had, the final two hours of this most important round in Scott’s golfing life to date were never going to be easy.
When Scott holed a 14 footer at the 14th for just his second birdie of the day he had re-established his overnight lead he seemingly closed the door on his rivals. Four ahead with four holes to play and, outwardly at least, in control of his game and his nerves, Scott appeared to have extinguished the hopes of his challengers but the 42 year old Els saw it differently.
Scott faced a lengthy approach to the 15th at about the same time as Els faced an eight footer for birdie at the 16th. Els missed but when Scott pulled his second into the greenside bunker the door remained open for the South African.
Scott bogeyed the 15th but surely he could handle a three shot lead with three to play? The short par four 16th saw Scott pitch 40 feet past the hole and when he missed a putt of three feet for par the difference was just two.
Scott could have been forgiven for nerves on this most crucial of days in his career to date but the first real outward sign had been that putt and as he headed to the 17th tee he still had a lead but it was quickly disappearing.
Importantly he found the fairway with his tee shot at the 17th but again he was left with his approach, the ball nestling into some thick rough alongside the green. The best he could manage from there was 30 feet and when he two putted for bogey he was tied with Els who just a few minutes earlier had holed a magnificent do or die 15 foot putt at the 18th for birdie.
How quickly the gap had closed and now Scott became the hunter rather than the hunted. A birdie to win or a par to force a playoff.
The 18th at Royal Lytham is one of the great finishing holes in golf. Fairway bunkers dot the landing area from the tee and Scott was again left of target with his three wood and found one of them.
He could only hit sideways and was left with a lengthy approach. That he was able to recover and re-group to hit his approach to 14 feet should be remembered when critiquing his late meltdown but the putt he hit to tie was never on line and the title was Els.
While much of the post event analysis will focus on what might have been for Scott, nothing should be take away from Els win. He was there to take advantage of Scott’s demise and the pressure he applied was ultimately the cause of it.
Els claimed his fourth major championship title 18 years after his first and as is so often the case with the 42 year old he was all class during his post round comments.
“At the moment I feel for my good friend Adam Scott,” said Els. “We both wanted to win for different reasons but it is the nature of the beast. You win you lose.”
Els paid tribute to those around him including his family, his caddie, his coach and his recently discovered South African eye specialist Sherylle Calder who has worked on his hand eye co-ordination skills.
“I started believing again this year,” he said of a steadily improving game. “I have had a lot of help from a great team to get here.”
The anguish Scott suffered after missing the putt to tie was obvious but he disguised it well as he attended to the presentation ceremonies and spoke to television. It was a class act but clearly when he gets the chance to sit down with those closest to him the emotions are likely to flow.
This was a bitter blow and he might well take some time to get over. Scott does however appear to be the type of individual to learn from what happened rather than linger on it. He can be forgiven a few ’what ifs’ in the immediate future however and the lessons he can learn may not be immediately apparent to him.
“I am pretty disappointed,” said a still shell shocked Scott. “I managed to hit a poor shot on each of the closing four holes. I am disappointed after playing so beautifully for most of the week but I shall not let this bring me down.”
“The 16th hole hurt, missing that short putt. But, surprisingly, I was still feeling incredibly calm for most of the round and I still feel calm.
“I hit a great shot into the last and felt like I could have rolled that in and get a few extra holes, but it wasn’t to be.
Tiger Woods and Brandt Snedeker tied for third with Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell sharing 5th.
The next best of the Australians was Geoff Ogilvy whose final round of 67 saw his finish 9th, his second best finish in ten Open Championship starts.
New Zealander Steve Alker finished 19th which, given his current standing in the game, was perhaps one of the performances of the week.
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