Ernie Els won the British Open and ended a 10-year major victory drought in shocking fashion yesterday at Royal Lytham as Adam Scott squandered a four-stroke lead with four holes to play.
Els captured his fourth major title after the 1994 and 1997 US Opens and the 2002 British Open by navigating brisk winds and avoiding pesky pot bunkers down the stretch, going four-under par on the back nine to capture the Claret Jug.
The 42-year-old South African, who had gone winless in 36 major starts since his 2002 Open playoff triumph at Muirfield, fired a two-under par 68 to finish 72 holes at seven-under 273 and edge Scott, who fired a 72, by one stroke.
“It was my time for some reason,” Els said. “A lot of people never thought I would win another one. I started believing this year.”
Els sank a 15-foot birdie putt at the 18th, his third birdie in four days at the finishing hole, while Scott made bogeys on the final four holes in a total collapse, evoking memories of his idol Greg Norman’s epic Masters frustrations.
“I’m pretty disappointed,” Scott said. “I had it in my hands with four to go. That’s what happens on a course like this. I am disappointed. I played so good most of the week. I shouldn’t let this get me down.”
Tiger Woods, a 14-time major champion in the hunt with six holes remaining, settled for a share of third on 277 with US countryman Brandt Snedeker.
England’s Luke Donald and Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell shared fifth, another stroke adrift.
Scott appeared to have sealed his first major triumph with a birdie at the 14th hole putting him four in front of Els.
But Scott stumbled with a bogey at the 15th and missed a spirit-crushing two-footer for par at 16 just before Els made his birdie at the last.
“The 16th hole hurt me, missing that short putt,” Scott said.
Scott found greenside rough on his way to a bogey at 17 and put his tee shot at the 18th into a fairway bunker. He pitched out and put himself eight feet from the cup with his third shot, but missed the putt left of the cup and Els had an unlikely triumph.
“I just heard what happened,” Els said. “I couldn’t see it.”
Els, who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011, had a share of second in 1996 and a share of third in 2001 on Lytham’s links before making the greatest last-day victory comeback in a major, six shots, since Irishman Padraig won the 2007 British Open.
Six days after his 32nd birthday, Scott found only heartache instead of victory in his 46th major start. It was his third loss in nine events when leading after 54 holes and he became the fourth Aussie in a row to lose a major when ahead entering the last round.
Els, the 16th winner in the past 16 majors, made bogeys at the second and ninth holes but charged on the back side with birdies at 10, 12 and 14.
Woods, seeking his first major title since the 2008 US Open, shared second with Els with six holes remaining, each of them four adrift.
But Woods, who endured a triple-bogey nightmare at six, took bogeys at the 13th and 14th holes to stumble back while Els birdied the 10th, par-3 12th and 14th to climb within three shots of Scott.
Scott, who began with a four-stroke lead, had a bogey-birdie-bogey start to the final round, took another bogey at the sixth but followed with seven pars.
Strong winds off the Irish Sea after three days of near-perfect conditions played havoc with leaders, wind-whipped trousers and flapping pin flags showing the trouble that helped bring perilous pot bunkers into play.
Woods opened with five pars but fell apart at the par-4 sixth, a hole he had birdied in each of the first three rounds, suffering his first triple bogey in a major since the first hole of the 2003 British Open at Royal St. George’s.
Woods, who made a spectacular hole-out from a bunker at 18 Friday, found a greenside bunker at the sixth. He tried to blast out but instead hit the ball off the face of the bunker and barely evaded the ball as it rebounded into the sand behind him.
Stretching out on his knees on the grass above the bunker, Woods punched a shot off the top lip of the bunker and onto the green, but missed a four-foot putt and settled for triple bogey.
Woods birdied the par-5 seventh and followed a bogey at the par-3 ninth with a four-foot birdie putt at the 10th and a five-foot birdie at the par-3 12th to stand second briefly.
Woods collapsed coming in, his tee shot finding deep rough at 13 on the way to a run of three consecutive bogeys that killed the 36-year-old American’s chances to move closer to the record 18 major titles won by Jack Nicklaus.