You just never know, do you? Just as it seemed the final day of The Open 2012 was maybe a little anti-climactic… just as it seemed it was all going to amount to a case of as you were… right at that moment, the golf world stopped on its axis and we all fell over. Adam Scott, who came in to the last round with a four-stroke advantage and still held it through the 14th, bogeyed the last four holes – and old man Ernie Els, playing as if he didn’t have a care in the world, made four birdies on the back nine to win it.
It was impossible not to feel for Scott. He had that 25-footer on the 18th to salvage a play-off – and when it missed, he sank to his knees. In his dreams last night, if he envisaged sinking to his knees on the 18th, it surely was not for this reason. Not this way. Sport is a cruel master. For every fairytale finish it delivers to one achiever, it snatches away a dream from someone else.
Ah, but Els knows a thing or two about this game. Look no further than these words from his compatriot Thomas Aiken, uttered as he came off the 18th just 40 minutes or so ahead of the great man: “Ernie was talking to me at the end of last year when we were flying back from Dubai together. He told me one very good thing – forget about top 50 in the world, forget about number one in the world, because it doesn’t really mean anything. He said what means something is winning tournaments. You’re remembered for winning golf tournaments, not for anything else.”
And maybe now is a good time to recall the words spoken by Els himself as he finished his first round on Thursday. He shot 67 to lie three off the lead, and said: “My odds must have been really great – 100-1 or something? I wish I could have put some money on myself. But I don’t think it’s allowed.”
Why didn’t we listen? How come we were not looking his way until well in to the back nine on this final day? His round today will surely be remembered above all other things for his breezy countenance. The Big Easy had never looked easier. He was a man out for an idle Sunday afternoon stroll, with a bit of golf thrown in – this was a good walk made better. Even as he waited for Scott to finish, he stood chewing a sandwich behind the Clubhouse, with no television screen within his sight, wearing the expression of one with merely nothing better to do.
But then it wasn’t as if Scott had the demeanour of a man over-burdened by expectation. When he birdied the 14th to return to 10 under, he was doing fine. There was no indication of the meltdown that was to come – and even as it was happening, he retained that signature half-smile on his face. Then came, surely, the worst moment of his professional life. That moment on the 18th, when his putt would not meet the hole, and there was no getting the dream back. In that moment, no one would have been surprised to see him look shattered. Instead, he put his hand on his chin, and shook his head a little, eyes narrowed. No expert lip-readers were required to see that the only word he uttered to himself was: “Wow.” Numbed by disbelief, perhaps. No doubt the full understanding of the prize lost will become all too Technicolor clear to him.
The best of times for Els, the worst of times for Scott. It made your heart sing, and it made your heart break – all at the same time. That’s The Open. That’s golf.