Ernie Els never led the 141st Open until the moment he won it. At a course where the South African felt he had let victories slip away in both 1996 and 2001, he closed superbly with a 68 that included an inward half of only 32 strokes.
At the 18th he received a grand ovation as was fitting a former Champion and then an even bigger one when he rolled in a 15-footer for his fourth birdie since the turn.
He had not won a tournament for almost two years and in April had failed to qualify for the Masters but with the help of an eye specialist his game, and especially his putting, was coming around.
It was a magnificent putt that deserved to win an Open but not quite yet. Adam Scott had led after equalling the course record with a 64 on day one.
Brandt Snedeker’s own 64 on Friday matched Nick Faldo’s record of 130 strokes for 36 holes but Scott retook the lead with a third-round 68. The Australian with the broom-handled putter started nervily on Sunday, the first day of any notable breeze, but with a birdie at the 14th he was four ahead with four to play. Miserably, he contrived to bogey each of the last four holes.
At the last, now level with Els, Scott drove into a bunker and ended up missing from eight feet for a par and a play-off. Only Henry Cotton had taken longer to regain the Claret Jug than the ten years it took Els.
“Amazing, I’m still numb,” he said. “It’s just crazy. I really feel for my good buddy, Scottie.”
“Ernie is a worthy Champion,” Scott said. “He said he felt for me and not to beat myself up, that I’m a great player and can go on to win majors.”