One Missed Putt
If you go back and read the media coverage prior to this past week’s 2012 Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s in Lancashire, U.K., very few sports writers were talking about Ernie Els.
But it was exactly Ernie Els, the one-time British Open Champion and 42 year-old grinder who walked away with the Claret jug yesterday after surreptitiously ousting Australia’s Adam Scott who had led much of the tournament, and was, in fact, leading yesterday through the 17th hole, before collapsing with a missed par putt on the 18th hole in front of thousands of golf fans in attendance and millions more in the TV and Internet audience.
What made the collapse even more painful was that Els and Scott are good friends, and for Scott, this would have been his first major victory.
Despite the outcome, the 2012 Open Championship made for dramatic sports television, especially if you’re a golf fan.
Though other notables, including Tiger Woods, world #1 Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, and a handful of others seemed like they might have a chance to head up higher on the leaderboard at times, it was Scott who seemed destined for victory, playing strategically, cautiously, and most importantly in golf, consistently –that is, all the way up to the 15th hole at Royal Lytham.
But then, as is the case with the game of golf, fate, the winds, and perhaps even some nerves, got in Scott’s way, and with a long birdie putt on 18, Els earned his way to his second Claret jug.
One couldn’t help but have empathy for Scott — he seemed calm and collected throughout the tournament, and no doubt played steady, eddy golf. But the closing holes of a major are key, and just a couple of minor slip-ups — overshooting the green on 17, and driving into one of Royal Lytham’s lethal pot bunkers on 18 — sealed his fate.
As for Tiger Woods, it seemed going into Sunday he might have a chance to overcome Scott early in the day. Throughout the tournament, Woods had only pulled out his driver once, instead opting for smart and more strategic placement of his drives using irons to avoid Lytham’s 205 bunkers. But in the end, that strategy shortened Tiger’s distance off the tees, and lengthened his approaches, making it especially difficult to get close to the already-hard-to-reach pins on Sunday.
And Ernie Els, well certainly his iron play kept him in the running, but it was his putter that won the day. His 12-foot putt on 18 to draw Scott one shot closer to him will be recorded in perpetuity on the great Open Championship highlight reels.
Unfortunately, so will Adam Scott’s missed 7 footer that, had he made it, would at least have given one more opportunity to close the deal in a playoff with Els.
With three majors down, and one to go (next month’s PGA Championship will be held at the Ocean Course in Kiawah Island, South Carolina), this has proven to be a year of dramatic golf and even more dramatic majors.
It’s also likely going to be the year that golf’s key governing authorities, the USGA and the Royal and Ancient in the U.K., are going to face increased pressure to finally contend with what many call golf’s “steroid,” the belly putter, which players like Els, Scott, Matt Kuchar, and so many others have begun using that allows them to “anchor” the putter in their chests or bellies, and which many think is an unfair advantage.
Me, I’m just hoping for one last and final major in the form of the PGA Championship that is even half as dramatic as the British and U.S. Opens have been, all of which will have been the consummate set up for this September’s Ryder Cup matches in Medina!