23 July 2012
“For some reason I’ve got some belief this week, I feel something special can happen,” Ernie Els said after his third round in The Open Championship at Royal Lytham and Saint Annes. A day later, his words turned prophetic as he captured his fourth major title and his first in a decade.
The win came as a big surprise, although he had previously done well when The Open Championship had been hosted at Royal Lytham and Saint Annes, finishing tied for second in 1996 and tied for third in 2001. However, his last victory had been in December 2010 in the South African Open.
If one looked closely, though, the signs were there that the man known as “The Big Easy” was on the way back. In the previous major, he returned the best putting statistics in the US Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, where he finished ninth, three shots behind the winner, Webb Simpson.
It has been quite a turnaround for Els, who missed out on the US Masters earlier this year, having failed to qualify for the event for the first time since 1993. A bogey on the last hole of the US Open meant he failed to qualify for the 2013 Masters. Now, with the South African a major winner again, that concern is a thing of the past.
After three days of forgiving conditions at Royal Lytham and Saint Annes, the course turned tough on Sunday and Els handled that pressure best to come from behind to take victory as the third round leader Adam Scott’s game fell apart on the inward nine.
Els, who had begun the last day six shots off the pace, played the last nine holes in 32 shots, with four birdies and no drops.
He closed with a two-under-par 68, the best round among the third round front-runners, while Scott, who led by four shots after three rounds, following a course record six-under-par 64, a 67 and a 68, fell apart with bogeys on each of the last four holes to stumble to a 75.
Four consecutive drops
Scott had appeared on course for his first major title despite a hesitant opening, which saw him drop three shots and add a birdie in the first six holes. When he sank another birdie on the 14th, it appeared that he had sealed the deal, but then came those four consecutive drops, including a “how did that happen” miss of a three-footer on the 16th.
“I’m pretty disappointed because I had it in my hands with four to go and I managed to hit a poor shot on each of the closing four holes, which costs you a bogey, and that’s what happens on a course like this. I’m very disappointed, but I played so beautifully for most of the week, I certainly shouldn’t let this bring me down,” he said afterwards in a television interview.
Els was gracious in his acceptance speech and addressed runner-up Scott first. “I feel for my buddy Adam Scott,” he said on the 18th green.
‘You’re going to win many of these’
“Scotty, you’re a great player, a great friend of mine, we’ve had some great battles in the past. I feel very fortunate and you’re going to win many of these, you’ve got too much talent [not to].”
Later, he joked: “I had a lot of support this week, but you guys have to ask yourselves, were you being nice to me or did you believe I could win,” which drew loud laughter from the big crowd.
Then, addressing his family, Els continued with a smile: “I’m going to try and come and see you this evening [in London]. I’m supposed to go to Canada, but I think I’m going to blow that thing off … I’ll maybe get to Canada on Tuesday,” a comment which once more had the crowd laughing.
Els also took the opportunity to thank former President Nelson Mandela for what he has done for South Africa, Johan Rupert for his support of golf in South Africa, and his caddie Ricky Roberts.
He recalled talking to Sheryl Calder, known as “the Eye Doctor”, who has helped him with his putting, early in the year. “When I saw her in January,” Els recounted, “she said we were going to win a major this year and I thought she was crazy and here we are right now.”
Tiger Woods finished in a tie for third with Brandt Snedeker, four shots behind Els on three-under-par 277. Woods’ challenge for a 15th major, but his first since the 2008 US Open, was undone by a seven on the par-four sixth hole.
South Africa’s Thomas Aiken tied for seventh after finishing on one-under-par 279 after rounds of 68, 68, 71 and 72.
Louis Oosthuizen, the Open champion in 2010, closed with a 73 to end in a tie for 19th place on one-over 281.
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