July 23, 2012
When his par putt curled left of the 18th hole during the final round of the Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St. Annes Golf Club, he became 0 for 51 in majors.
Scott held what seemed to be a comfortable 3-round lead heading into Sunday. But then, something happened: The Open Championship.
Lytham had been rather tame for the first three rounds of the championship, but like most true links courses, as soon as the wind picked up, she bared her teeth.
Scott made 3 bogeys to go along with a birdie on the front 9, but that was nothing compared to his competitors.
On the 6th, Tiger Woods found himself in a deep greenside bunker, right up against the tall riveted face. ESPN analyst Paul Azinger suggested Woods could take a drop for an unplayable lie. According to Golf Digest, Scott had 3 specific options.
- He could have taken a drop within 2 club lengths of his lie, while keeping the ball in the bunker, no nearer to the hole.
- He could have played the ball in a line behind his lie, as far back as he wanted in the bunker.
- He could have returned to the location of the shot that landed him in the bunker.
Each option would have cost him one stroke. Tiger decided to take option 4, and play it out of the bunker. He later explained that if he couldn’t get the ball out, the idea was to deflect it off of the sod face and have it ricochet to his right, out of the bunker. Instead, it deflected left, and almost hit him. The end result was another awkward lie in the bunker. Woods had to play it from his knees on the grass above the ball. This time, he deflected it off the face of the bunker, onto the green. He then 3-putted for a triple bogey that dropped him to 3 under par, and essentially out of contention.
Meanwhile, the rest of the contenders dropped shots at an alarming rate. Graeme McDowell spent more time on the sand than a hermit crab, and Brandt Snedeker, the 36-hole leader, dropped 4 shots to finish tied for third with Woods.
The only player who made a positive move was Ernie Els. He was -2 on the day, which, relative to the field, might as well have been a 59. Els came to the 18th green with a chance for a birdie to bring him within 2 of Scott, who was playing two groups behind him. Els drained the 15-footer to move to -7, while Scott hit his approach to the 17th into the deep rough.
Scott bogeyed the 17th, to fall into a tie for the lead with Els. Then hit his tee shot against the face of a fairway bunker on the 18th. His only option was to pitch out. He hit a terrific approach shot 12 or so feet short of the hole. But he missed the putt, short and to the left, to give Els the victory.
For the big South African, it was his 3rd major in each of the last 3 decades, and 4th overall. He became only the sixth player to win the U.S. Open and British Open twice. The others are Jack Nicklaus, Woods, Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones, and Lee Trevino.
For Scott, the number that stands out is 4, as in 4 straight bogeys to finish his round. Scott is a terrific player, but has not been able to close the deal in majors.
He has 8 top-tens overall, and has now finished 2nd twice – the other occasion was in the 2011 Masters. Even when he won the Players Championship in 2004, a tournament that many consider “the 5th major,” he nearly gave it away when he yanked his approach to the 18th into the pond. He ultimately hung on for a 1 shot win over Padraig Harrington.
He made a positive move last year, when he hired fellow Aussie Steve Williams to caddy for him. Williams has, after all, 14 major wins under his belt, thanks to his days with Tiger Woods. (Although, Williams once caddied for Greg Norman, who had some legendary blown majors himself).
Scott’s meltdown wasn’t as dramatic and severe as that of Jean Van de Velde, whose laborious and winding trek across the 18th at Carnoustie cleared the way for a win by Paul Lawrie, but it was more like a slow torture. Drip by drip, and shot by shot, Adam saw his lead slip through his fingers.
“I was surprisingly calm the whole round,” Scott said. “I probably spent all my nerves over the 24 hours leading up to playing today. Even the last few holes I didn’t really feel like it was a case of nerves or anything like that.”
Maybe he could use a few nerves. Maybe a sense of urgency would have helped his concentration on the second shot into the 17th, or the tee shot on the 18th.
Scott is 32 now, and still playing great golf. But he’s still the best player to never win a major, and unless he learns to finish on Sunday, he’ll remain that way.