LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — It was a plaintive wale, a solitary voice rising up from the packed bleachers and echoing off the Victorian clubhouse as everyone else held a collective breath in silence.
“Please go in!”
For once, the proper British version of “Get in the hole!” expressed a universal sentiment. Nobody – especially as nice a young man as Adam Scott – deserved that.
The putt, however, didn’t drop. The claret jug belonged to Ernie Els once again.
“I know I’ve let a really great chance slip through my fingers today,” said Scott, his voice composed but his face shrouded in shock. “Today is one of those days, and that’s why they call it golf.”
Scott was in perfect position to follow his boyhood idol Greg Norman and have his name etched into the oldest major trophy in golf. He turned into the other version of Norman instead.
In a collapse that was shorter but every bit as painful as Norman’s famous meltdown at Augusta in 1996, Scott blew a four-shot lead with four to play at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. He bogeyed the last four holes and handed the trophy to Els.
Even Els was wishing Scott’s final putt would drop and sent them to a four-hole playoff instead.
“I really feel for my buddy, Scottie, I really do,” said Els after collecting his fourth career major. “I’ve been there before. I’ve blown majors before and golf tournaments before, and I just hope he doesn’t take it as hard as I did.”
Scott remained stoic as he gave a even-tempered account of what transpired down the stretch. He cried in front of the television as a teenager watching Norman lose a six-shot lead to Nick Faldo at Augusta, but there were no tears Sunday night.
Not yet anyway.
“It may not have sunk in yet, so I don’t know,” Scott said. “Hopefully I can let it go really quick and get on with what I plan to do next week and get ready for my next tournament. We’ll see. I don’t know, I’ve never really been in this position, so I’ll have to wait and see how I feel when I wake up tomorrow.”
For sure, there were a lot of positives for Scott through 68 holes when he birdied the 14th and appeared to lock up what has always seemed to be his birthright.
“He’s looked like he was going to do this since he was 14, to be honest with you,” said Geoff Ogilvy, the last Australian to win a major at the 2006 U.S. Open, when Scott seemed destined for a coronation walk up the 18th at Lytham.
Nobody had pushed Scott all day. Despite three bogeys in the first six holes, he headed to the back nine with the same four-shot lead he slept on Saturday night. As usual, everyone around Scott looked a little bit uglier by comparison, with seasoned major winners Tiger Woods, Graeme McDowell and Zach Johnson as well as Brandt Snedeker frittering away their own chances with triples, snap hooks and double doubles.
Only Els stepped up. Despite all the major heartaches he’s endured in the past 10 years since winning his last major in the 2002 British Open at Muirfield, Els had only good feelings after making bogey on the ninth and turning with a six-shot deficit.
Els made four birdies on the back including a clutch 18-foot putt on the 72nd hole to send up a roar that Scott couldn’t help but hear as he walked toward his ball in the fairway on 17. The lead was down to one.
“I didn’t even have to look at the leaderboard to realize the situation,” Scott said.
That’s when Scott’s approach drifted left on the head-on breeze and rolled into the rough where par would take a miracle.
“I was watching out of the corner of my eye,” said McDowell. “It’s hard to watch a guy do that. When you hit a second shot on 17 and the alarm bell started to ring, I thought, ‘Hold on, we’ve got a problem here.’”
Scott’s problems got worse when he went to the 18th tee all square. His 3-wood didn’t cut in the crosswind, holding its line into the sod wall of a fairway bunker. That he still had a 10-footer to force a playoff after all that happened was impressive, but the putting stroke that failed to close the door on 15 and 16 was too shaken to stem the bleeding.
“It all comes down to the shot into 17 for me that I’m most disappointed with,” said Scott. “At that point I’m still well in control of the tournament, and I hit a nice shot somewhere to the right of the hole and I can go to the last with the lead still. So that was pretty disappointing for me really.”
What do you say after all that? McDowell, who witnessed Jim Furyk kick away a chance at the U.S. Open last month, did his best.
“It was tough to say anything to him that was going to be of any relevance,” McDowell said. “I said he’s a great champion and I said there’s many majors ahead for him. It’s just a tough beat.”
Els, whose been on Scott’s dark side of fate too often, tried as well.
“I think Adam is a little bit different than I am,” said Els. “I did see him afterwards in the scorer’s hut and he seemed okay. I really said to him, ‘I’m sorry how things turned out.’ I told him that I’ve been there many times and you’ve just got to bounce back quickly. Don’t let this thing linger. So yeah, I feel for him. But thankfully he’s young enough. He’s 32 years old. He’s got the next 10 years that he can win more than I’ve won. I’ve won four now; I think he can win more than that.”
All kind words said with genuine affection for one of the nicest guys in golf who should be among the fraternity of major champions.
Certainly more consoling words will come from Norman, the poster figure of Australian heartache. It’s Norman’s lessons that Scott employed in the numbing aftermath.
“Greg was my hero when I was a kid, and I thought he was a great role model, how he handled himself in victory and defeat,” Scott said. “He set a good example for us. It’s tough. You don’t want to sit here and have to ... I can’t justify anything that I’ve done out there. I didn’t finish the tournament well today. But next time – I’m sure there will be a next time – I can do a better job of it.”
The young man Norman wished would break all of his records unfortunately felt the sting again of how hard it is to win a major.
He, too, finished runner-up at the Masters in 2011.
Now Scott has let the claret jug slip from his grasp.
“I’m a positive guy,” Scott said with his chin up like Norman. “I’m optimistic and I want to take all the good stuff that I did this week and use that for the next time I’m out on the course.”
Everyone would be pleased to see Scott have that chance again to erase one of the cruelest blows the game has delivered.