The Open Championship 2012
Adam Scott did not lose the 2012 Open Championship: rather Ernie Els won it.
Els did so with an exceptional back nine of 32 on the last day, produced under immense pressure and achieved by supreme driving, measured positive aggression and repeatedly holing out when missing would have been easier.
The story does not, however, start on the tenth tee on the Sunday. From the Els point of view, it emerges from some years of despondency. Eclipsed by Woods, troubled by significant knee problems and hampered by a vulnerable putter, his performance over recent years suggested that 2012 would offer little. What appears to have turned the tide was work done with Sherylle Calder, a South African hockey player with interests in the relationship between the eyes and sporting performance. An encouraging performance at the US Open followed where he finished ninth.
Philip Reid of the Irish Times ran an interview with Els before the Open, in which the South African said 'For some reason I've got some belief this week. I feel something special can happen. I feel I've put in a lot of work the last couple of years, especially the last couple of months. Something good is bound to happen. Hopefully, it's tomorrow.'
Whilst Els was happy with his preparation, the elements could not have been more unkind towards the course. April to June saw the heaviest rain for that period for over a century. In the run up to the Open, there was sustained rain on most days. Although the course drained well, the prospect of presenting a fiery, running links faded. Instead of having to drop the ball short and let it run up to the hole, players could fire the ball straight at the flag. The absence of wind over the first few days left the course defenceless. Would there be the first 62 ever at an Open? Would there be a 63 as there had already been at St Andrews, Muirfield, Turnberry, Royal Birkdale and Royal St George's?
The answer to both questions was No, though the Australian Adam Scott had an effortless 64 on the first day. In his round, Scott dropped a shot at the third, then had eight birdies in the next thirteen holes, before dropping a shot at the eighteenth. Those players who kept the ball out of the bunkers and out of the heavier than usual rough got their rewards. Three players had a 65 - Paul Lawrie, Zach Johnson and Nicholas Colsaerts - with American Brandt Snendeker the only player on 66.
Els was content with his first round in which he finished with birdies at the 16th and 18th, resuming a happy relationship with a course where he had finished second in 1996 and third in 2001. 'I have a nice feel about this course' he said after his 67 'You can have a go at it or you can play safe. I like those options.' Out in 30, Woods had the best front nine of the day but took 37 back.
Benign was the word used again to describe the course on the Friday. The weather forecasters predicted the possibility of perhaps 1mm of rain overnight on the Thursday. By 0430 hrs on the Friday, the course and tented village were underwater after 11mm of torrential rain. The weather forecasters took up horoscopes. Miraculously the course quickly dried out and apart from water in a few bunkers was defenceless once more. Scott followed his 64 with a commendable 67 but found himself one behind Snedeker who had a serene 64. In his first two rounds the American had ten birdies and twenty-six pars - and no bogeys. Not only was he putting beautifully but he was yet to visit a single bunker.
At one point of the second round Snedeker was five shots clear but Scott closed him down to one shot, with Woods two shots further back. Els was seven behind after his 70. Tom Watson gave delight to all by holing a long putt on the home green to just make the cut.
After the third round of 68, Scott had opened up a strong four shot lead over the rest of the field. After three birdies he dropped a shot at the fourteenth. Snedeker came down to earth with five bogies in the first eleven holes and was six shots behind Scott before pulling up with late birdies at the 16th and 18th. Graham McDowell, fresh from his strong run at the US Open followed a quiet front nine with birdies at the 13th, 14th and 17th to produce a 67 that tied him with Snedeker, four shots behind Scott. Woods was one shot back after a subdued 70. Best round of the day was by Zach Johnson, whose six birdies were offset by two bogeys, both the results of three-putting.
By having a 68, Els had posted more sub 70 rounds than any other player ever, passing the record held by Nick Faldo. Els said 'I've played some really good golf but just can't get a really low score going. It shows what a great course it is - even with calm conditions it is tough to score.' Els had made a run from behind in the past at Lytham, when he started the last round eight behind Tom Lehman and despite dropping shots at two of the last three holes finished only two behind after a 67. But the talk was all about Scott and those just behind him.
On the last day, a decent breeze made the conditions a little more testing but what undid the leading four players was the beast referred to by Bernard Darwin when he described the course as 'a beast, but a just beast.' Those four, after perhaps restless nights, came onto the first tee with dry mouths and took on the challenge. Scott had a 75, McDowell a 75, Snedeker a 74 and Woods a 73. McDowell was undone at the 11th with a snap hook, Snedeker by consecutive double bogies at the 7th and 8th and Woods by poor decision making at the 6th where he dropped three shots at the one hole. He did have three birdies in the next six holes, before visiting bunkers at three consecutive holes, dropping a shot at each.Of Scott, more later.
With no pressure on them, Luke Donald came through the field with 69 for fifth place, Colsaerts recovered with a 65 and with 67's Ogilvy, Jiminez and Poulter did themselves some good. Of the 83 players only those last four had rounds below 68. But they were only going for bit parts. Els knew that whilst the championship was for Scott to lose, it was also his to win. Because of that, his front nine was one of a series of frustrations, with putts on line stopping an inch short, a dropped shot at the second, a missed six foot putt on the eighth and a careless chip and two putt on the ninth. He gave notice of intent by taking his driver out at the 6th and 7th whilst others preferred caution.
After his two over par 36 for the outward 9, Els persisted with his driver, using it at the 10th, 11th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th. His rewards were birdies at the 10th, 12th and 14th, at the last of these a huge drive leaving him needing only a sand wedge to the green. Fired up he forsook caution at the 16th only for his drive to drift right and what might have been a birdie prospect became a mundane par and at the 17th his birdie putt pulled up just short. . At the 18th he split the fairway with one of the longest drives of the day, well past the second set of bunkers and a wedge left him 15 feet from the hole. The roar when he holed his putt was enormous and his 68 was posted.
At that moment, Scott stood on the 17th fairway, his stomach in a knot. A wobbly start had seen him out in an unimpressive 36 but those near to him were bleeding as well. It did look as though a birdie at the 14th meant he must win. He was at that moment four clear of Els, but a pulled second shot at the next hole into a green side bunker produced a bogey. No cause for panic, but a strong approach at the next and a first putt that drifted four feet left should not have been a problem. When his next putt missed, there was a sense of disbelief in those watching.
A good drive at the next seemed to have settled things but another pulled shot into a heavy lie meant another shot gone. Three bogies in three holes. By now Els had his birdie at the last and the two were tied at seven under. Just a four at the last and then a play-off. Caddie Steve Williams appeared to offer no counsel on club selection. Scott thought about a 2-iron but concerned he might not carry the first diagonal set of bunkers, he chose his 3-wood and his shot vanished into the middle of the three bunkers that made up the second diagonal set. With little choice he had to play out sideways, but from 150 yards out his next shot to eight feet looked as though it would heal the damage.
After all he was using a long handled putter and it wear for such a situation that they made their claims. His putt never touched the hole. Back in 39, his round was a sickening 75. Els was the Champion once more and a worthy one at that. Every winner at Lytham since the world ranking had been introduced had at some stage been world number one and Els maintained that tradition.
Not only did the course again produce a winner out of the top drawer, it also stood up well to the world's best players. Although defenceless, it was reluctant to let too many get the better of it. A good yardstick is how many scores were under 68 and how many under 67. In the first round there were five under 67 with 8 more on the 67 mark. In the second round only three players were under 67 and but four on 67. There were 155 players at that stage.
83 players made the cut and in the third round there was only one 66 by Zach Johnson and one 67 by Graham McDowell. In the fourth round there was one 65 by Nicholas Colsaerts and three 67s. Only nine players broke 70 in the last round. Perhaps it is just as well that the course was defenceless!