Els secures thrilling Open victory

22/07/2012 17:44:09
Ernie Els with the Claret Jug   (Getty Images)
Ernie Els with the Claret Jug (Getty Images)
Ernie Els produced a stunning back nine 32 to pip Australian Adam Scott to The Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes.Ten years on from his last Major victory the South African could hardly believe he had become Open Champion again.

The 42 year old, the same age as last year's winner Darren Clarke, triumphed after Scott bogeyed the last four holes over the difficult closing stretch.

Scott, chasing his first Major, looked all set to become the first Australian to hold The Claret Jug aloft since Greg Norman in 1993 when he led by four shots with only four holes to play.

But he bogeyed them all and Els, having made a crucial 15 foot birdie putt on the final green 20 minutes earlier, suddenly found himself with a fourth Major title.

Els commented: "I'm just all numb at the moment. He's a great friend of mine. Obviously we both wanted to win very badly for different reasons and I really feel for him.

"It's the nature of the beast. That's why we are out here. You win, you lose and it was my time.

"I was hoping at best play-off. When I was on the 17th green he was on the 16th tee and, as we all know, it's not the hardest hole."

Scott failed to get up and down from a bunker on the 15th, then three-putted the next and while playing the 17th would certainly have heard the roar - the loudest of the week - for Els's last green putt for a 68 and seven under par aggregate of 273.

The "Big Easy", second at Lytham in 1996 and third in 2001, almost resigned himself to another near-miss. But things were about to change far more than he anticipated.

Scott pulled his approach into the rough, and when he drove into more sand down the last and had to hack out, Els had one hand on the trophy.

His Presidents Cup team-mate played a superb third to eight feet, but the par putt to force extra holes was pulled wide and that was that.

Having stood 11 under earlier in the day, he signed for a 75 and six under.

Tiger Woods, who also finished poorly in addition to taking a triple bogey, tied for third with fellow American Brandt Snedeker three shots further back, while Scott's playing partner Graeme McDowell ended up fifth with World Number One Luke Donald.

In his winner's speech Els told the crowd: "I had a lot of support this week. But you guys have got to ask yourselves the question were you just being nice to me or did you actually believe I could win?"

Scott retained his composure admirably, but must have been devastated inside.

"I'm pretty disappointed," he said. "I had it in my hands and managed to hit a poor shot at each of the closing four holes.

"I'm very, very disappointed, but I played so beautifully for most of the week I certainly should not let this get me down.

"Surprisingly I was incredibly calm and I still am. I thought I could roll that last putt in, but I didn't and that's golf."

Scott was on the verge of becoming the sport's tenth successive first-time winner in the Majors, but while that has now ended another run goes on - Els is the 16th different winner in a row.

Now with two Opens to go with his two US Opens, his front nine contained bogeys at the second and ninth and not a single birdie.

That left him six back, but he hauled himself back into things with birdies at the tenth, 12th and 14th to set up the remarkable climax.

McDowell was always playing catch-up and could not recover from bogeys at the second and sixth, the second of those seeing him take two in the same bunker that gave Woods so many problems.

The 14-Major champion - still to add to that tally since the 2008 US Open - almost hit himself as his first attempt to escape came back off at him.

Officials checked the video to make sure there was no contact, but he then had to play his next crouched on the grass way above the ball.

He did wonderfully well not to leave it in again, but the ball shot across the green off the face and from there he triple-bogeyed to fall seven behind.

It was the first time he had dropped three shots on one hole in a Major since he lost his opening drive at Sandwich in 2003.

The real killer blow for McDowell came with a six on the reachable long 11th - he lost his second in the bushes - that put him six adrift.

Woods and Els were up into joint second at that point, but the former found bunkers on the 14th, 15th and 16th and that ended his hopes.

For Els it was a different story. A very different story. An unbelievable one, in fact.