South African Ernie Els won The Open by one stroke from Adam Scott on Sunday after the Australian suffered an extraordinary late collapse on an incident-packed final day.
World No. 13 Scott, chasing his first major championship, started the last round with a four-shot lead and seemed to be cruising to victory as he maintained that cushion with six holes to play, but a late attack of the jitters caused him to drop strokes at each of the last four holes, allowing Els to slip in through the back door and lift the Claret Jug with a two-under 68 and a seven-under total of 273.
“It is amazing. I’m still numb. It still hasn’t sunk in yet,” Els told reporters after adding to his previous major victories in the 1994 and 1997 US Opens and The Open in 2002.
“I feel for Adam, he’s a good friend of mine. I was just hoping at best to get into a playoff when I was on 17, then I birdied the 18th and heard what happened to Adam,” said Els, whose victory extended to 16 the streak of different major winners.
Scott’s sad 75 meant he had to settle for second place on 274, three shots ahead of former world No. 1 Tiger Woods (73), whose hopes were dashed by an ugly triple-bogey at the sixth, and Brandt Snedeker (74).
“I am pretty disappointed,” Scott said. “I managed to hit a poor shot on each of the closing four holes and they cost me. As I played so beautifully all week, I shouldn’t let this get me too down. It’s funny, I definitely worked myself up a little bit at times, but once I was out there I felt completely in control and even the last few holes I didn’t really feel like it was a case of nerves or anything like that.”
Els, who rose from 40th to 15th in yesterday’s world rankings, played the best golf of all the leading players on Sunday, but he missed a host of birdie putts until making a forward move by picking up strokes at the 12th, 14th and 18th.
The smooth-swinging South African rolled in a 15-foot putt at the last.
Els, the second successive 42-year-old to win The Open following Darren Clarke 12 months ago, raised his arms in the air, high-fived his caddie and threw his ball into the grandstand, before walking off the green sporting a wide grin.
Scott, by contrast, was a picture of abject misery 20 minutes later and appeared close to tears.
A three-foot par-saving effort by the Australian had agonizingly lipped out at the 16th, before he hooked his approach into thick rough at the 17th and failed to hole out from 25 feet.
Then, at the final hole, he found a deep bunker off the tee and could only move his ball a few yards forward. Bravely, he struck a sumptuous approach to within eight feet, but his putt rolled past the hole and victory belonged to Els.
Most of the leaders struggled to cope with tricky winds on a warm summer’s day at the Royal Lytham and St Annes links, none more so than 14-time major champion Woods.
The American chose to play long irons off most of the tees, but his title push unraveled in spectacular style when he took a seven at the sixth, his first triple-bogey in a major for nine years.
With his ball tight against the wall of a steep greenside bunker, Woods had to take evasive action as it rebounded back toward him following his first attempt to get out.
He then sank to his knees perched on the edge of the trap and, with one leg extended to keep his balance, he made a strong contact with his ball, which struck the lip of the bunker and squirted out across the green.