LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – Ernie Els, coming off his worst season and seemingly destined to fall short again at Royal Lytham, instead claimed his second British Open title when Adam Scott stunningly bogeyed his final four holes on Sunday.
“I’m a little numb at the moment,” the Hall of Famer said minutes after Scott’s 10-foot par save at the 18th hole skirted the cup.
“I really feel for (Scott), but it’s the nature of the beast. That’s why we’re out here – you win, you lose. It was my time for some reason.”
Four birdies on the back nine gave Els a 2-under-par 68, capping it with a 20-footer at No.18 that seemingly bee-lined into the hole. That moved him within one shot of the faltering Scott, who moments earlier had blown a short par putt at No.16 to fall to 8-under par.
The drama, it turned out, was only beginning.
Scott – who led by four after a birdie at No.14 – pushed his approach shot at the par-4 17th into lush rough right of the green, then caught a flyer with his chip. The ball sailed over the flagstick, stopping 12 feet past the pin.
The Aussie stroked the putt wide, dropping him into a tie with Els. Grabbing a 3-wood on the 18th tee, Scott watched helplessly as his drive skipped into one of the 17 bunkers that flank the fairway and green.
Left with no choice but to chip out sideways, Scott gave himself a chance with a splendid wedge that stopped in the middle of the green. Alas, his putt appeared ready to veer toward the hole but then thought twice.
“I’m pretty disappointed,” said Scott, who was seeking his first major title. “I had it in my hands with four to go and proceeded to hit a poor shot on each of the last four. That’s what happens on a course like this.”
Els was the only man among Sunday’s final seven pairings to break par, finishing with a total of 7-under 273. Scott, who led by four to start the day, finished with a 75 that included seven bogeys.
Sunday’s victory came 10 years and one day after Els’ other Open crown, when he won a four-man, four-hole playoff at Muirfield. He preceded that with two U.S. Open titles in 1994 and ’97.
A year ago, though, he wondered whether he’d ever be in position to win another major. He had just one top-10 finish worldwide in 2011, earning less than $1 million on the PGA Tour for the first time in his career.
“I’d been in such a negative mode for a while,” said Els, who has made South Florida his base for the past four years.
His game, though, began to turn around this year. He had a chance to win in Tampa before putting woes crept in again on the back nine, then lost a playoff in New Orleans to Jason Dufner a month later.
But there’s something about Royal Lytham that brings out the best in Els. In his two previous Opens on the Lancashire links, he’d finished runner-up to Tom Lehman in 1996 and tied for third in 2001 behind David Duval.
Tiger Woods was four shots back in a tie for third, carding a 73 that included an adventurous triple bogey at No.6. A bunker shot caromed back and almost hit him, and his eventual escape came from a sitting position on the bank above.
“Overall I’m pleased with the way I played,” Woods said afterward. “Unfortunately, just a couple here and there ended up costing me some momentum – especially today at (No.) 6.”
Brandt Snedeker also was at 3-under after a 74, dropping from contention after back-to-back double bogeys at Nos. 7 and 8.
(c)2012 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services