July 22, 2012
No Masters worries for Els, now
By Ian Hutchinson, Special to QMI Agency
Three years ago, Ernie Els was in the Toronto area for a Golf Town charity event, a marquee name for sure, but one that had lost a bit of glitter through disappointing results at the time.
Ever the class act, Els wasn’t about to make any excuses for the fact that he hadn’t won in more than a year, including the fact that he was coping with his son Ben’s autism, a cause for which Els has become a prominent spokesperson and fundraiser.
“You come to terms with everything. It becomes a way of life. You adapt. Everybody has issues in life. I can’t blame anything for the way I’m playing,” he said at the time.
“I just lost my swing. Doing one thing for such a long time, you’re going to have ups and downs. What happens on the course is on the course. What happens off is off,” said Els, who had to scrap and claw for a spot in this year’s Masters, but no dice.
The Big Easy will have no such concern next April after making his first win in two years a big one at the British Open, his fourth major in three decades after winning the 1994 and ’97 U.S. Opens, as well as the 2002 British Open.
That means Els will defend his 2012 Open championship at Muirfield, the place he won 10 years ago. Not bad for a guy with his 43rd birthday on the horizon and already inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Els, as he mentioned and as his record indicates, has been doing this a long time and that experience paid off as he simply did what he needed to do to hang in there and give himself a chance with his good pal and Presidents Cup teammate Adam Scott seemingly in control.
After bogeys at the second and ninth hole, Els reeled off four birdies on the back nine, including 18 where he sunk a long putt to leave him at seven under, with Scott short circuiting after his robotic dominance over the first 68 holes of the tournament.
From his opening tee shot, it looked as if nerves were affecting Scott as he went bogey-birdie-bogey and added another bogey on six. Then, he settled in for seven consecutive pars, with few players challenging.
When he birdied 14, Scott seemingly sent the engraver the message to start putting his name on the Claret Jug, but sent shock waves through Royal Lytham and St. Annes with four bogeys that highlighted a meltdown of epic proportions to hand Els a one-shot win.
Nobody seemed more surprised than Els at this tournament that gave us Jean Van de Velde, famous for his rolled-up pants while he waded in the water during his famous meltdown in 1999 at Carnoustie, where Paul Lawrie came from 10 shots off the lead to win in a playoff.
Els began the day six shots behind Scott.
Van de Velde is part of British Open lore and the only way Scott will avoid having his collapse constantly being brought up is by bouncing back to win a major, which he’s capable of doing if you go by his play for most of this tournament, mostly on a softer, less windy course.
Still, Scott has 18 wins worldwide, including the 2004 Players Championship, but he’s been considered by many, and he’s admitted this himself, to be the classic underachiever.
What happened on Sunday likely won’t set in for awhile, but when it does, Scott will need to look at his vanquisher and pal for perspective. Despite his two wins at the Open Championship, Els also felt the sting of defeat after a shocking playoff loss to unknown Todd Hamilton in 2004.
Combine that with the challenges that Els has faced on the course and off, what he said two years ago about adapting and learning to deal with the ups and downs is a valuable message for Scott, who knows that Els has been there and back.
Els’ victory ends the streak of first-time major winners at nine ... If you look back to our fearless picks a week ago, you’ll see that eight-time LPGA Tour winner Sandra Post called Els to win ... Both Els and Scott use long putters, which is fueling the debate about anchoring against the body being an unfair advantage. Those who subscribe to that theory likely won’t point out that Els was 75th in putting as he stood over his birdie putt on 18, or that Scott missed several short putts ... The 16th was the easiest hole on the golf course, but Scott three-putted it for his second of four consecutive bogeys to close it out ... Despite it being soft with little wind in the first three rounds, hardly the conditions you expect at a British Open, only eight players finished under par for the tournament ... Belgian Nicolas Coelsaerts had a roller coaster ride last week, starting with a 65, before inflating to 77-72 the next two rounds. Coesaerts’ 65 on Sunday was low round of the day and he tied for seventh.