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Scott Bogeys Last Four Holes; Els Captures Open Championship
While all the headline writers were getting ready to trot out their "Great Scott" banners, something strange happened over the final four holes at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in the 141st Open Championship.
Thanks to a birdie on the par-4 14th, Adam Scott enjoyed a seemingly insurmountable four-stroke lead with only four holes to go. But then, inexplicably, the 32-year-old's game went sour. He bogeyed the next three holes, setting up a dramatic finish thanks to a clutch birdie by Ernie Els on the final hole that tied Scott at 7-under.
On the par-4 18th, Scott hit his drive into one of Lytham's 205 sod-walled bunkers, and was forced to pitch out sideways into the fairway. From 150 yards he hit a nice approach to 10 feet. But the Aussie barely missed his tying par putt, giving Els his second Claret Jug and fourth major title in three decades as a touring pro.
So instead of claiming his first Grand Slam event, Scott bogeyed Nos. 15-18, giving the "Champion Golfer of the Year" title to his good friend Els, who as a six-time runner-up in majors, including three in the British Open, is painfully familiar with Scott's position.
Els made up a six-shot deficit in the final round thanks to his closing 67, while Scott, who entered Sunday with a four-stroke cushion over the field, could only manage a 75. Els finished at 7-under 273, and Scott a stroke back at 274.
As he received the Gold Medal and Claret Jug at the champion's presentation, Els expressed sympathy for Scott, standing nearby, "I feel for my buddy, Adam Scott. Scotty, you're a great player, a great friend of mine and I feel very fortunate. One of these days you'll win one of these, you have too much talent."
Els tipped his cap to the huge gallery, quipping, "I have to ask - were you guys being nice to me or did you actually think I could win." He also thanked Nelson Mandela, his country's 94-year-old leader, and longtime caddie Ricci Roberts.
As for his four major titles - two U.S. Opens (in 1994 and '97) and a pair of British Opens (2002 and '12) - in three decades, Els told a TV reporter, "It means I've been around a long time and had perseverance," noting that he has been surrounded by "lots of great people, family, everyone."
Els also referred to how far he's come in the past year. After winning the 2010 Arnold Palmer Invitational, he had a poor 2011, dropping out of the top-50 in the world rankings for the first time since 1993.
"It's amazing - last year I was nowhere and (then) I began to feel better - and here we are," said Els, who added, "I really feel for my buddy."
A visibly stunned Scott told a reporter, "I haven't processed (the loss) yet. I've got to take something out of it because I'm playing great." Scott later said, "I'm really disappointed. I had it in my hands with four to go. But I played so beautifully all week I shouldn't be disappointed."
Els will be the defending champion at Muirfield in 2013, appropriate since that Scottish links is where he won his first Claret Jug.
Scott's two closest pursuers entering the final round, Graeme McDowell and Brandt Snedeker, weren't factors on Sunday. Snedeker shot a 74 to tie for third at 277 with Tiger Woods (73), while McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open winner, had a 75 to end up sharing fifth at 278 with No. 1-ranked Luke Donald, who closed with a 69.
South Africa's Thomas Aiken (72) and Belgium's Nicholas Colsaerts (65) tied for seventh at 279 and were the final players to have under-par totals after 72 holes.
Zach Johnson (71) was in a group of players at 280 that included Thorbjorn Olesen (74), Mark Calcavecchia (72), Dustin Johnson (71), Matt Kuchar (72), Vijay Singh (70), Alexander Noren (69), Ian Poulter (67), Miguel Angel Jimenez (67) and Geoff Ogilvy (67).
2012 Masters' champion Bubba Watson shot a 74 to finish at 282 and 23rd place with - among others - Steve Stricker (71).
Other scores included a 72 by No. 3-ranked Lee Westwood (he finished at 286) and a 73 by No. 2-ranked Rory McIlroy (288). Five-time Open champion Tom Watson shot a 73 to end up at 292, while two-time major winner John Daly had a 74 to end up in next-last-place at 294.
But the story of Sunday involved Adam Scott and Ernie Els, two friends with divergent legacies.
For all the scores, visit http://www.pga.com/openchampionship/scoring/leaderboard.