Els 'numb' over Open win

Ernie Els of South Africa gestures next to the Claret Jug during a press conference after winning...

Ernie Els of South Africa gestures next to the Claret Jug during a press conference after winning the 2012 British Open Golf Championship at Royal Lytham and St Annes in Lytham. (Glyn Kirk/AFP)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:15 PM ET

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, ENGLAND - It is the cruel reality of major championship golf.

More often than not, the hot light of the moment shines into the dark places in every players' game and so it was with Adam Scott over an excruciating final four holes of the British Open on a perfect evening Sunday at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

When the crush of the pressure of winning a major -- in this case it would have been the first for the just turned 32-year-old Australian -- falls squarely down, it always seems some flaw is exposed.

There are not many in Scott's action, one of the most technically-sound swings in the game, but with a four-shot lead with four holes to play, Scott started missing left and saw his lead painfully recede. His broomstick putter, so solid for most of the week, couldn't bail him out.

The Claret Jug instead fell into the hands of 42-year-old Ernie Els, a man despondent over the state of his game last year and who believed the days of being a contender in majors were over.

It was a remarkable hour in both their lives.

"Amazing. I'm still numb. It still hasn't set in. It will probably take quite a few days because I haven't been in this position for 10 years, obviously, so it's just crazy, crazy, crazy getting here," said Els, who could look at the trophy glinting in front of him and see his name from his victory in 2002.

"But I really feel for my buddy, Scotty, I really do. I've been there before. I've blown majors before and golf tournaments before, and I just hope he doesn't take it as hard as I did."

Scott entered the day with a four-shot lead and the contenders around him were in full retreat.

American Brandt Snedeker lost a ball and made back-to-back double bogeys while shooting 73. Tiger Woods, in the hunt for his 15th major, made a triple bogey after an ill-fated bunker shot on the sixth hole and shot 73. Graeme McDowell, playing in the last group with Scott, yanked a ball into the bush on the 11th on his way to a 75.

Els bogeyed the ninth and was six shots back of Scott at the turn. Angry, Els made four birdies on the back side for a 68 to get to 7-under for the tournament and stood by while Scott stumbled to 75 and a collapse that will be remembered with that of Jean Van de Velde, who blew a three-shot lead on the final hole of the 1999 Open Championship and lost in playoff.

Van de Velde's collapse was swift, like a train wreck.

Scott's was agonizingly slow, like the sinking of the Titanic.

He pulled his approach into a bunker on the 15th hole. Bogey.

He three-putted the short, par-4 16th, missing from three feet.

His approach on 17, from about 178 yards with a 6-iron, went long and left and down a slope into deep grass. He made another bogey as the cheers for Els' closing birdie rang across Royal Lytham and the two were tied.

"Yeah, I heard it," said Scott. "I didn't even have to look at the leaderboard to realize the situation.

"I hit a really nice tee shot off 17 right after missing a short one there on 16 and I just turned it over into the 17th. It wasn't a good shot. Like I said, that's the one that I look at and am most disappointed about at the moment."

Needing a birdie to win on the par-4 18th, Scott and caddie Steve Williams can be second-guessed for their club selection, a 3-wood that found a bunker on the left side of the fairway, the ball against the face, leaving Scott no option but to pitch out sideways.

"Yeah, I thought about going with less club, but it was hard left-to-right (wind). I felt like if I just hit a 3-wood it would drift, but I just hit a real bullet and it held on its line. I'd hit 3-wood and some irons the other days, 2-irons, but I just held it too much on its line. Unfortunately that wasn't the shot I needed right there," said Scott.

Now needing to get down in two for a playoff, Scott hit it to about eight feet and missed the putt to the left, making Els the winner.

"I know I've let a really great chance slip through my fingers today," said Scott. "But 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, so that's a good thing for me moving forward. All the stuff I'm doing is going in the right direction. Today is one of those days, and that's why they call it golf.

"I can't justify anything that I've done out there. I didn't finish the tournament well today," he said. "But next time -- I'm sure there will be a next time -- I can do a better job of it."

Scott lost a championship, but no doubt won more fans with the graciousness with which he handled his defeat.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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