Ernie Els beat Adam Scott by one to win the British Open
Through 68 holes of the British Open Championship, the story seemed to be, "Where will this victory put Adam Scott’s career?" He was about to become just the third player in history to win a Players Championship, a World Golf Championship and a major.
Then, beginning on the 15th hole, one of the greatest collapses in major history unfolded before our eyes. Unlike Rory McIlroy’s undoing at the 10th hole at Augusta in 2011, this was not the case of one bad hole doing him in. It was a slow painful death that may leave Scott unable to reach this point again.
Meanwhile, the eventual champion, Ernie Els, captured his fourth major championship and second British Open. He has now won majors in three different decades, and unfortunately he is not the reason this open will be remembered.
Let’s look at the seven most memorable story lines coming out of this year’s British Open.
Brandt Snedeker had a record setting first two rounds
While Snedeker’s performance on the weekend may leave him as an afterthought following this championship, his first two days’ performance cannot be discounted. Even though the weather was not a factor during the first two days, Snedeker’s ability to have 10 birdies and no bogeys through 36 holes is still one of the best two round performances in major history.
From now until at least the end of the second round of next year’s open (likely to be longer, given that the lack of weather conditions experienced on the first two days of this championship is about as common as a solar eclipse), the answer to what is the lowest total score through the first two rounds in the British Open is 130 done by only Nick Faldo, 1992 and Brandt Snedeker, 2012.
Snedeker used a masterful putting performance through two days that showed why he entered this week ranked fifth on the PGA Tour in putting. His total performance on Thursday and Friday is not likely to be matched for another 20 years.
Phil was looking for his ball and his game through the first two days
Granted, Phil has not exactly played well during the last two months, save for the two middle rounds of the Scottish Open last week when he had two rounds in the 60’s. These were his first two rounds of any kind under par in his last seven. However his inability to control his accuracy off the tee or the fairway or the bunkers or the rough, made it a brutal two-day march at Royal Lytham.
Don’t be surprised if this tournament is the point that people start to point to as the one in which Phil lost his status as an “elite” player. He’s 42, and while it’s very possible he could contend for another major title here or there, the safe bet is that his name at the top of a major leaderboard is going to be about as common as the aforementioned solar eclipse, and not the norm like golf fans are accustomed to.
One amusing sequence during his otherwise tough to watch play, was when he was standing over his ball in the rough on Thursday and asked for a ruling which would allow him to move his ball because he couldn’t see it while swinging. He was stunned when told "no."
Much like what can be seen as a microcosm of his current career path, what seems to be obvious to the rest of us as his lost status as an elite player, seems to be a shock to him.
One of the most unforgettable scenes of the week happened on Thursday when Rory McIlroy’s tee shot hit a spectator in the head then rolled out of bounds. It was an unfortunate sign of things to come for last year’s U.S. Open winner. He found a way to salvage a 67 on Thursday in ideal conditions before collapsing the next three days.
Following a third round 76 on Saturday, McIlroy told reporters his problems were a matter of, "Just lack of consistency with my swing. Whenever you're not confident in the shots that you're trying to hit, then it's tough to sort of trust it.''
We saw Rory get off to a great start in 2012, flip flopping with Luke Donald for the No. 1 world ranking position for much of the first two months after the season. Unfortunately for McIlroy, ever since he lost the playoff to Rickie Fowler at Quail Hollow, his swing hasn’t been the same. For a player who’s won a major, it’s doubtful the loss in the playoff is the cause for his ailments.
Perhaps he is just going through the same thing fellow countryman Graeme McDowell did following his U.S. Open victory in 2010; feeling he can be on autopilot and have the natural tendency to relax a bit. Hopefully we see Rory have a good finish to the 2012 campaign and back fighting for the world No. 1 spot.
Umbrellas weren't needed much this year during the competitive rounds
The players at this year’s 2012 British Open were expecting much of the same weather problems that come just about every year. Sideways rain and howling winds tend to make the trip around Open venues more of a punishment than a reward for qualifying to play in the year’s third major of the year.
This year, however, the first three days made it seem like it was the John Deere Classic. Calm winds, no precipitation, and soft greens, allowed for easy scoring as evidenced by the 11-under-par number Adam Scott had through three rounds.
On Sunday, the winds stayed at 11 miles per hour, with some gusts in the 20’s. While it was far from the scenes of years past, when it has seemed like more the real-life version of the Perfect Storm than a golf tournament, the winds were enough to bring the leaders back to earth. As a result, the winning score came in single digits under par, rather than the 12 to 15-under that Scott was threatening on Saturday night.
This shot at the 6th did Tiger in for the rest of the tournament
Entering Sunday’s final round, Tiger Woods was five off the lead. He knew that winning the championship would rely more on Adam Scott coming back to the field, rather than Woods being able to go catch him, given the weather conditions. It turned out that neither were the case.
Woods’ title hopes were dashed following the sixth hole in which he took a triple bogey, after doing acrobatics with his stance in the green side bunker. He was lucky the ball did not hit him following his initial attempt to get out of the bunker, which failed.
Perhaps Tiger would have been in a better position entering the final round, or able to take advantage of Scott’s collapse down the stretch if he could have hit his short irons better all week. On a course that routinely left him 120 yards or less with his second shot, he was always leaving himself 20-30 footers for birdie instead of the vintage Tiger, which he says he’s still capable of. That Tiger would stuff those shots within five feet.
Another perplexing thought to the observers on Sunday was that when he finally did take the driver out of the bag, which he was scared to do all week, he could not control it. After two years of swing changes, aren't we past Tiger playing army golf with his driver (left-right-left-right-left)?
Following Sunday’s round, it’s hard to say which is more shocking: that Tiger still has such little control with big parts of his game, or that even with his lack of control, he still had a chance to win.
As a big Ernie Els fan, it was great to see him get back in the winners circle. He pulled an Adam Scott down the stretch in New Orleans earlier this year, and lost in a playoff, so it seemed fitting he benefited from a collapse by someone else.
Ernie and ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi referenced an interview last year in which Els felt lost with his game. Fans have felt sympathetic towards Els, due to his character which sees him always being gracious to fans and keeping his priorities in line. He puts a lot of effort towards his charity Els for Austism, due to his son suffering from the syndrome.
Ernie made the headlines in the year’s first major due to his absence. While his game had eroded of late, it still did not seem right that he wasn’t part of the festivities. Thanks to Ernie’s clutch putt on 18 (chalk up another one for the long putter), he is in next year’s field at Augusta, and if he keeps his tee-to-green game in as good shape as it is now, he may be in contention for the green jacket.
Scott was stunned following his final round
With his birdie putt on 14, to put him to 10-under, ESPN’s Mike Tirico correctly stated at the time Scott had one hand on the Claret Jug. Unfortunately for Adam, the hand would fall off as the wheels fell off his game. Missing a short putt at 16, similar to the one he missed at the first hole earlier in the round, it was not looking good for Adam.
Scott’s golf role model growing up was Greg Norman, who is known in his own right for major collapses. Up four with four to go, it was unthinkable that Scott could lose this one. After all, he had only made four bogeys all week through the first three rounds. The wind had picked up, but it seemed that it only helped him since it prevented the contenders behind him from going low.
When Adam reached the green on 18, after having to pitch out sideways, there was little hope he’d make it. He’d had so many putts of that distance all week, and left them short. Els’ putt on 18, had the speed and confidence in it that Scott’s putts lacked. True to form, the putt died off to the left and Adam could only say “Wow” after missing it.
In what will go down as perhaps the greatest collapse since Jean Van de Velde in 1999, it was a shame that the 2012 edition of the British Open Championship is going to be known more for Adam Scott losing the Claret Jug, rather than Ernie Els winning it.