LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- Adam Scott tried his very best to give away the Claret Jug on Sunday at the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
And he pulled it off.
At least Jean Van de Velde got a chance to redeem himself in a playoff after he triple-bogeyed the 72nd hole at Carnoustie in 1999 to blow a 3-shot lead. At least Scott's countryman and hero, Greg Norman, already had blown his 6-shot lead at the '96 Masters by the time he got to Amen Corner.
Scott had been in complete control of this tournament. His sparkling smile, which had exuded confidence and glamour and the gaze of celebrity girlfriends, had held thousands of fans captive for hours on this seaside resort on the northwest coast of England. The engraver was ready to put his name on the Claret Jug. His whole family was in town to witness this career-defining achievement.
His caddie, Steve Williams, was looking for his 14th major championship. No caddie has ever come close to winning that many majors.
Scott couldn't lose. He wouldn't lose.
His playing partner, Graeme McDowell, thought it was a sure thing.
"When he stood up on 14 and he flushed that thing down the middle and made birdie, and then on 15 buried that thing down the middle," McDowell said, "I thought he was going to win it, and he's going to win it impressively."
Four pars. That's all he needed to capture his first major championship.
But then the dream dissolved in a flurry of bogeys that will haunt this 32-year-old Australian probably for the rest of his days.
"When he hit his second shot on 17, the alarm bell started to ring," McDowell said. "I thought, 'Hold on, we've got a problem here.'"
Scott had made sloppy bogeys at 15 and 16, and then his second shot at 17 left him with a difficult up-and-down to make par. When he didn't convert that putt, he was tied with Ernie Els, who had finished at 7 under par. Then, after hitting his 3-wood off the tee into a fairway bunker at the 18th, he sealed his chances with another bogey.
It was over. Els was the Champion Golfer of the Year.
"I know I've let a really great chance slip through my fingers today," Scott said. "But somehow I'll look back and take the positives from it. I don't think I've ever played this well in a major championship, so that's a good thing for me moving forward.
"All the stuff I'm doing is going in the right direction. Today is one of those days, and that's why they call it golf."
Anyone with a heart has to feel bad for Scott. It was tough to watch a player ruin a near-perfect week of golf with a few mistake-ridden holes at the end of the tournament. Els didn't want to win this way.
The 42-year-old South African tried to comfort Scott in the scorer's trailer after the round. There were no right words, no words that could sufficiently touch the emotions that Scott was feeling. It hadn't sunk it yet. Scott didn't know whether he would cry. He hadn't had time to process the whole thing. It had happened all too fast.
"I really feel for my buddy, Scottie, I really do," Els said. "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.
"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."
On Sunday, the players faced a Lytham course that had heavy crosswinds after three calm days. "It went from being target-type golf to shot-making-type golf," McDowell said. "It was hard. It required a lot of shot-making out there, and it was tough to get back into that mode. It was really Open Championship golf today. You had to actually hit golf shots.''
At the 18th hole on Sunday, Scott tried to hit a 3-wood into a hard left-to-right wind that he hoped would drift a little right. But he hit a bullet that held its line and found a left fairway bunker. In a couple of previous rounds, when there had been practically no wind, Scott had used a 2-iron off the tee.
Yet he'll probably remember this Open Championship most for the putts he missed in the final round.
Easily the worst one he missed all day was a 4-footer for par at 16. Lately there has been a lot of chatter in the golf world about banning long putters, but Scott proved on Sunday that these sticks aren't always the magic wand for short putts as they've been advertised by proponents.
"It came down to not making a couple of putts on the last four holes," Scott said. "If I make either on 15 or 16, it's a very different position and a lot more comfortable. And I put myself in a position where I had to hit a great tee shot off the last, and I didn't hit a great one."
After he accepted the silver salver for second place, Scott didn't deflect comparisons from his debacle on Sunday to Norman's disaster at the '96 Masters. He was mindful enough in that moment to recall how Norman had handled himself gracefully in victory and defeat. He was proud of the example that the two-time Open Champion had set for him when he was a young boy in front of the television back home in Australia crying his eyes out as his hero threw away the green jacket.
And like Norman was on that solemn April day, Scott was composed on Sunday and assured that there were brighter days to come. He didn't know how long it would take for him to get over this disappointment, but he knew that it would happen in time. All he needs is time: another chance at contention in a major.
"I can't justify anything that I've done out there. I didn't finish the tournament well today," Scott said.
"But next time ... I'm sure there will be a next time, and I can do a better job of it."