The Open: Ernie Els storms home to win in a dramatic climax
AFTER Tiger had been brought to his knees and G-Mac and Brandt both buried their challenges in the bushes, the belly incredibly beat the broom. Four shots clear with four to play, Adam Scott suffered one of the most painful collapses in Open Championship history. It opened the door for Ernie Els to become the event’s 141st champion instead and get his name on the Claret Jug for a second time.
Els stormed home in 32, Scott staggered over that stretch in 39. It left the South African as an unlikely winner, having started the final day six shots behind the leader. He was still adrift by the same margin at the turn but a dramatic couple of hours that followed will go down in the event’s folklore.
Scott dropped shots at the last four holes to finish agonisingly short after Els had holed from 12 feet for a birdie at the last to finish on seven-under. Els closed with a 68, Scott signed off with a 75. He set out with a chance to make history by becoming the first player using a long putter to win the world’s oldest major. He will be remembered instead in this event for a different reason.
After running up a triple-bogey 7 at the sixth, where he found a horrible lie in a greenside bunker, Tiger Woods had already shot his bolt before the drama unfolded. He tied for third with fellow American Brandt Snedeker, who saw his bid derailed by two double-bogeys in three holes just before the turn.
Graeme McDowell came unstuck after the turn, losing his ball after a shocking shot at the 11th. He dropped back to finish in a tie for fifth on two under alongside Luke Donald. Never quoted at any stage, the world No 1 came up on the rails with a closing 69.
On a lovely last day in Lancashire, there was more wind than earlier in the week, though it certainly wasn’t blowing as strongly as the 25-30mph gusts that had been forecast. Yet again, though, the course was playing tough. On Saturday, no-one had come out of the pack – a rare occurence. Yesterday, only Nicolas Colsaerts made a significant thrust among the morning starters.
The big-hitting Belgian finished with a 65, the same score he had started with, before undoing his challenge with a couple of ordinary efforts in the middle. As the day went on, he gradually moved up the leaderboard on one-under, though most of the leaders had plenty of shots in hand on him by the time they started out.
Scott’s four-shot cushion at the outset was trimmed straight away. While playing partner McDowell made amends for pulling his tee shot at the first by producing a great up and down, the Australian, after chipping to three feet from just off the back edge, missed his short par putt. His response was majestic as he hit his approach at the second to a couple of feet for a birdie.
McDowell dropped a shot there – a two-stroke swing. In the group ahead, Woods and Snedeker both started with a string of pars. Those runs were ended abruptly. Woods couldn’t have placed his drive at the sixth in a better spot. He couldn’t have found a worse one with his approach at the 492-yard par-4. “It was one yard off line,” he groaned to caddie Joe LaCava of the result.
It was up against the face in the first of two bunkers at the left of the green. He tried the direct approach. The ball hit the revetted face and he was fortunate it didn’t hit him as it landed a bit further back from the original spot. This time he couldn’t stand in the bunker. He had to squat outside with his legs tucked underneath. It was a miraculous shot that got him out ,but he then three-putted for a triple-bogey 7.
Minutes later, McDowell found almost the same spot. Reared on links courses, he didn’t even try to get out at the first attempt, but knocked his ball into the middle of the trap. He then got up and down to limit the damage to a bogey. Scott took five there as well after finding a different greenside bunker.
Snedeker was next to come unstuck. A wild tee shot at the sixth resulted in a lost ball. It cost the halfway leader a double-bogey. A second in three holes dropped him from seven-under to three-under in a flash. His race was run.
Woods soon joined him in the paddock despite a brief flurry, with birdies at the tenth and 12th. His iron for safety from the 13th tee found trouble in a bunker. A hole he was looking to birdie cost him a shot instead. He found sand as well at the next two holes and they went down on the card as bogeys, too.
McDowell’s first birdie of the day, set up by a lovely second to eight feet at the eighth, cut Scott’s lead to three. Unfortunately for the Ulsterman, he was too pumped up on the ninth tee and found an awkward spot at the back of the green at the short hole. His pitch wasn’t the best and neither was his second shot at the 11th, where his challenge came off the tracks.
Going for the green in two at the par-5, the swing was a fast one. It went straight left into the worst spot on the whole course and will never be seen again. After being carted back up the fairway to re-load, he did well to salvage a six, but it left him six shots behind his playing partner.
Amid the frenzy, Scott was going along serenely. Els, though, was doing his best to apply some pressure to the leader. He started for home six behind, having gone out in 36. But birdies at the tenth, 12th and 14th saw him suddenly emerge as the only serious threat.
Playing downwind, the 16th was in reach. Earlier in the day Ross Fisher had made an eagle-2 there. Els opened his shoulders but pushed it right, not too far away from the infamous spot Seve Ballesteros found in 1979 but still managed to make a birdie on his way to claiming the Claret Jug. Then it was a car park, now it’s the site for a corporate hospitality unit.
From a bare lie, Els conjured up a shot Seve himself would have been proud of. Unfortunately for the big South African, the birdie he badly needed wasn’t forthcoming. By then, Scott had increased his lead to four again with a birdie at the 14th, where he boomed a drive down the 444-yarder and holed from eight feet. He immediately gave that shot back after finding sand at the next but, despite that, he still looked home and hosed.
An iron off the tee put him in perfect position at the 16th, where he then safely found the green. But a three-putt from 15 feet showed the nerves were kicking in. The heat was turned up another notch when Els birdied the last, holing from 12 feet to come home in four-under for a 68. It set the target on seven-under. He tossed the ball in delight into the crowd. The smile we used to see on the Big Easy’s face made a welcome return.
It meant Scott’s lead was down to just one. His approach at the 17th was a bit unlucky, finding a thick clump just off the back left. It cost him another shot and left him needing a par at the last to force a play-off. Finding himself close to the face in a bunker off the tee made that difficult. He had a six-footer to take it to sudden-death, but it was dragged wide of the hole.
At the end of dramatic day, it was still hard to believe that the Big Easy will return to Muirfield, scene of his first win in the event 11 years ago, as the Open champion.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: West