Ernie Els emerged triumphant from the first four-man play-off in the history of The Open to lift the Claret Jug for the first time following an extraordinary Championship.
On the Sunday before The Open got underway, Els told a friend while watching the sun set over the 18th hole at Muirfield: “If that doesn’t inspire you, nothing will.”
It certainly worked wonders for The Big Easy, who had previously won the US Open in 1994 and 1997, as he outlasted the rest of the field to be crowned Champion Golfer.
Colin Montgomerie opened with a 74, then had a 64 and then an 84 in the cold, wet and rain of a stormy Saturday afternoon. There were plenty of other victims, including Tiger Woods posting his worst ever score as a professional with an 81.
Els set out in the worst of the weather and managed a 72 to take a two-stroke lead. On Sunday conditions were ideally for scoring. Gary Evans had eight birdies in 10 holes, holing a putt of 80 feet at the 10th and taking the lead at the 11th.
He then parred to the 17th where he lost his ball in the rough to the left of the green but later holed from 40 feet for a par and a huge cheer from the gallery. He bogeyed the last to miss out on the play-off by a stroke, as did Padraig Harrington.
Stuart Appleby scored a 65 and Thomas Levet and Steve Elkington both 66s to tie on six under. Els had a stroke to spare until two poor chips at the 16th meant a double bogey and he was now one behind. He birdied the 17th and parred the last for a 70, then parred each of the play-off holes.
Levet bogeyed the last to lose his lead and the pair played the 18th again, Levet taking five once more, while Els played a delicate bunker shot and made his four.
“I pulled myself together,” said Els, who first contended in The Open at Muirfield in 1992. “I guess I’ve got a little bit of fight in me when it counts. I’ve been after this for 10 years.”