By Ted Bishop
Guest sports columnist
— Ernie Els spoke at the 18th green as he was being crowned the “Champion Golfer of the Year” by the Royal and Ancient minutes after winning the 2012 British Open Championship on Sunday at Royal Lytham.
“I had a great week here. Everybody offered me encouragement. Were you just being nice to me, or did you really think I could win?” Els observed.
Those words came after he paid tribute to his good friend Adam Scott, who had just made four straight bogeys to finish with 75 and lose to Els by one shot. Scott held a four-shot lead before his stretch of bogeys.
Sunday at the Open proved why professional golf might be the cruelest of all sports.
Scott was rolling. He appeared that he was going to win while everybody else around him, Els excluded, was shooting themselves in the foot. First, it was Brandt Snedecker making two straight double bogeys on the front nine. Next, it was Tiger Woods, who suffered a triple bogey on the sixth hole when he literally had to lie on the ground to hit a bunker shot. Finally, Graeme McDowell snapped hooked his tee shot into the gorse on the 11th hole making a critical double bogey and it looked as though Scott was home free.
It was stacking up as the ideal day for the likable Scott, who was trying to win his first major. When he birdied the 14th hole, Scott was four shots ahead of Els. But, he admittedly hit a bad shot on each of the four closing holes while Els was making pars until he sunk a 20-footer for birdie on the 18th hole.
In winning his second claret jug, Els became one of a few players to win majors in three different decades. Twice a U.S. Open champion, in 1994 and ’97, he has now won British Opens in 2002 and ’12. In the end, it was a duel between two of golf’s most likable players — Els and Scott.
Eight times in his professional career, Scott has led after 54 holes. On six occasions, he won the tournament. Sunday’s rejection at Royal Lytham will probably haunt Scott more than the one he faced when his then-girlfriend Kate Hudson left him for Alex Rodriguez.
The loss had to be just as bitter for Scott’s caddy, Steve Williams. It was Williams who packed the Tiger’s bag when he was winning most of his majors. A year ago after Scott won a WGC event Williams labeled it “my greatest win ever”— a defined slam directed at his old boss.
If Scott had any advantage on the last four holes, it should have been from the wisdom and experience of Williams. It would seem logical that Williams could have jockeyed his player through those final holes with some resolve and guile, having been in that position many times before with Tiger.
I guess it shows that caddies are way overrated and ultimately it is the guy holding the club that will decide the outcome. Never more true than on Sunday at The Open.
Royal Lytham once again wrote a unique chapter in Open history and proved why many in the U.K. think it’s the greatest test in the rota. Consider this. Snedeker set the 36-hole scoring record with a score of 10-under par. Nicholas Colsaerts of Belgium became the first player in history to shoot two 65s in the same Open. This was the 141st Open and those are historical achievements, and still, neither player won.
As I reported last week, Lytham’s illustrious past winners include David Duval, Tom Lehman, Seve Ballesteros (two), Gary Player, Tony Jacklin, Bob Charles, Peter Thomson, Bobby Locke and Bobby Jones. Els, winning his second Open at Lytham, fits its history.
Over the years, the villages of Lytham and St. Annes have suffered through tough economic times. Mills have shut down and the only constant has been the Irish Sea and its ancient shoreline. It is a blighted northwest coast of England and the area has truly been shaped by time. Royal Lytham has been aptly described as a grinder’s course.
The conditions in the final round were reasonable by Open standards. The winds “were a bit frisky” as described by the legendary Peter Allis. In the end, it was the collection bunkers that decided the winner. Golf course architects can create obstacles for players to deal with. George Lowe was the original designer in 1886. Harry Colt “modernized” Lytham in 1919. Lowe and Colt succeeded in making sure that nearly every ball headed in the direction of a bunker, found it.
On Sunday, Scott had everything to lose and only his first major to gain. Before the round started Els was asked how tough it would be for his buddy Scott to win. His answer was simple and prophetic, “The final round of an Open Championship offers a test that is eternal. It won’t be easy,” said the eventual winner.
The great Mariano Rivera was once asked what the difference was between closing the final out of a game versus the World Series. “It’s the difference between being forgotten and remembered,” said Rivera.
Everyone will remember that Els won his second Open at Lytham. Eventually, everyone will forget that Scott couldn’t close the deal — at least everybody, but Scott.
• Ted Bishop is a Logansport native and the Director of Golf and General Manager at the Legends of Indiana G.C. in Franklin. In addition, he is the PGA Vice President. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.