LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – In one of the most astonishing finishes in Open history — or any tournament for that matter — Ernie Els pulled off one of the most improbable wins of his PGA career on Sunday.
Even when Els birdied the 18th hole, to finish the round at 2-under and the four-day tournament at 7-under, it was hard to imagine that Adam Scott, playing three holes behind him, would be overcome by a string of bogeys.
Not one. Not two. Not three.
Four shots ahead with four holes to play, Scott bogeyed them all, lost by one shot, and had to fight back tears on the 18th green as the magnitude of his meltdown began to sink in.
Els, who started the final round six shots behind, finished off a flawless back nine with a 15-foot birdie putt for a 2-under 68 that looked as if it would do little more than lock up another runner-up finish at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Instead, he wound up with his second Open — the other one was 10 years ago at Muirfield — and fourth major championship at a stage in his career when it seemed as though his best golf was behind him.
“Amazing,” Els said. “I’m still numb. It still hasn’t set in. It will probably take quite a few days because I haven’t been in this position for 10 years, obviously. So it’s just crazy, crazy, crazy getting here.”
The celebration was muted, unlike his other three majors.
“First of all, I feel for Adam Scott. He’s a great friend of mine,” Els said. “Obviously, we both wanted to win very badly. But you know, that’s the nature of the beast. That’s why we’re out here. You win, you lose. It was my time for some reason.”
This is the fourth time in the last nine majors that someone took at least a four-shot lead into the final round. The only other player who failed to win was Rory McIlroy at the Masters in 2011.
The wind finally arrived off the Irish Sea and ushered in pure chaos — a mental blunder by Tiger Woods that led to triple bogey on the sixth hole, a lost ball by Brandt Snedeker that took him out of contention and a topped shot that made former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell look like an amateur.
“I had it in my hands with four to go,” Scott said. “I managed to hit a poor shot on each of the closing four holes. Look, I played so beautifully for most of the week. I shouldn’t let this bring me down.”
Woods came undone on the sixth hole when he tried to blast out of a bunker from a plugged lie, stayed in the bunker, and three-putted for triple bogey. Still with an outside chance after a birdie on the 12th, he stuck with his conservative plan of hitting iron off the tee and made three straight bogeys. He closed with a 73 to tie for third with Snedeker, who also had his share of problems for a 74.
With the victory, Els:
* At the age of 42 years, 9 months and 5 days, wins for the 19th time on the PGA Tour in his 335th start. Is the second-consecutive 42-year-old to win the event (Darren Clarke/2011).
* Owns multiple wins at the British Open (2002, 2012) and the U.S. Open (1994, 1997).
* Three of seven top-3s at the Open have come at Royal Lytham & St. Annes (W-2012, T2-1996, T3-2001).
*Becomes the 16th different winner in the last 16 major championships. The last time 16 consecutive major championships were won by 16 different players was 1984-1987, starting at the 1984 Masters Tournament and ending with the 1987 PGA Championship.
* Snaps a streak of three-consecutive wins by Americans in majors and a string of nine consecutive first-time winners in major championships.
* Enshrined into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011, becomes the first male Hall of Fame member to win a major after being inducted since Lee Trevino was inducted in 1981 and later won the 1984 PGA Championship. The only other players to win a major after being inducted are Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.
*Extends his exemption on the PGA Tour through 2017 and earns a five-year exemption to the Masters, U.S. Open, PGA Championship and Players Championship, if not otherwise exempt.
* Collects 600 points and projected to move from No. 33 into the top 10 in FedExCup standings (1402 points).
* Becomes the second British Open winner in the last 20 years to birdie the final hole in the final round. Stewart Cink in 2009 was the other (Elias Sports provided note).
* Span of 10 years between wins (2002, 2012) is the second largest span between victories in British Open history. Sir Henry Cotton holds the record with 11 years between 1937 to 1948.
* Six-shot come-from-behind win is the largest at the British Open and in a major championship since Padraig Harrington came back from the same deficit at the 2007 British Open.
* Only player this week to post all four rounds at par-or-better (67-70-68-68) in his 22nd start at the British Open. The win comes in his 79th major championship appearance.
*Records the ninth-consecutive come-from-behind victory on the PGA Tour.
* Notches his 13th top-10 finish in 22 starts at the British Open.
*Had three rounds in the 60s this week, giving him the most rounds in the 60s in British Open history (39-Ernie Els, 37-Nick Faldo, 33-Jack Nicklaus).
* Nine of his 22 top-5 finishes in major championships have occurred at the British Open.