South Africa’s Ernie Els ended ten years of heartache when he closed with a brave two-under-par 68 to claim a dramatic one shot victory over Australia’s Adam Scott at the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes.
Els had been as much as four shots behind his Australian rival with five holes left to go but birdied the last to post a seven-under-par total of 273 and then watched in surprise as his great friend dropped four shots to par over the last four holes to return a five over par 75 and fall back to six-under-par.
The end came when Scott drove into a bunker at the last and then failed to hole a 15-foot par putt that would have taken this engrossing and entirely unexpected spectacle into extra time.
It was a result that meant Els joined Bobby Locke and Gary Player as the third South African to win The Open title at Lytham and it perpetuated the current run that has seen the last 16 Majors be won by 16 different golfers.
Most importantly it also gave the new champion golfer a fourth Major title a full decade and more after he had won his two US Opens and one Open between 1994 and 2002.
Els had arrived in Lancashire with many experts suggesting that his best years were behind him. He had won just twice since 2008 at the 2010 WGC-CA Championship and the 2011 South African Open and with his catalogue of near misses growing it would be fair to say this stunning performance had come totally out of the blue.
Els had started the final round a full six shots behind Scott and the margin was still the same when both men reached the turn. It was only when Els caught fire with birdies on the 10th, 12th and 14th that he was perceived as a potential contender, and even then the Australian was viewed as an outsider as Scott appeared to be cruising to the first Major title of his own.
“I’m still numb. It still hasn’t sunk in,” said the South African who was 50-1 with the bookmakers at the start of the Championship and still 25-1 with 18 holes left to go.
“It’s a crazy, crazy game. I can’t really believe I have won. I have been on the other end more times than I have been on the winning end so I know what Adam is feeling like.
“I really feel for my buddy, Scotty,” he added. “I’ve been there before. I’ve blown Majors before and I just hope he doesn’t take it as hard as I did.”
Scott was clearly distraught at his late collapse but that did not stop him being both graceful and gallant in defeat.
“It was a very sloppy finish by me,” he said. “I played so well all week. I wasn’t even really out of position but I managed to get myself in some trouble and couldn’t make the putts to get out of it the last four holes.”
“But that’s what you’ve got to expect here. It’s a Championship golf course and it’s very difficult.
“Obviously I’m pretty disappointed to say the least but I have a lot of respect for Ernie. We have a close friendship and he’s a worthy champion again.”
Scott’s late collapse saw him finish the tournament five shots back from where he had started the final round but his six under par total of 274 was still three shots better than Tiger Woods and Brandt Snedeker who registered rounds of 73 and 74 to finish on three under par on 277.
Northern Ireland’s Graham McDowell also went backwards with a 75 to finish tied 5th with the fast-finishing World No. 1 Luke Donald on 278, while big-hitting Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts closed with a best-of-the-day 65 to share 7th place alongside South Africa’s Thomas Aitken on 279.