Commentary

Els stays afloat as others sink

Updated: July 30, 2012, 8:44 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- Ernie Els got to kiss his significant other Sunday. Almost 10 years to the day, Els and the Claret Jug reunited for a totally unexpected greenside makeout moment.

Ah, love.

"It's just crazy, crazy, crazy getting here," said Els, whose back-nine 32 gave him a 2-under-par 68 and a 1-stroke victory.

Meanwhile, just about everybody else on the Open Championship leaderboard had to hose vomit off their golf shoes afterward. That's how awful, how comical and how compelling their play was as they tried, with zero success, to navigate Sunday majors pressure.

It was so bad, it was good. It was so sad, it was painful to witness. You couldn't go 60 seconds without seeing a player in need of the Heimlich maneuver.

Adam Scott, in search of his much-predicted first major, began the final round with a 4-stroke lead. He still had a 4-shot advantage with four holes remaining.

And he lost. I repeat: he lost, by 1 stroke.

The Open Championship -- and Els -- cut his air hose. Scott bogeyed No. 15, No. 16 (missed a 4-footer for the three-jack), No. 17 (launched a 6-iron into the gunk to the left of the green) and No. 18 (hit his tee shot into a fairway bunker and then missed the 8-foot par putt).

Hello, 75.

Fellow Aussie Geoff Ogilvy, who had sought out Scott on the putting green to wish him luck before the round, tweeted later: "I am happy for Ernie, but I feel sick right now."

Imagine how Scott feels. Not only did he just join the Phi Coulda Woulda frat house (members include Jean van de Velde, Scott Hoch, Arnold Palmer, Ed Sneed, Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman), but an entire nation now is sleep deprived -- and depressed -- after Scott's collapse. Australia stayed up all night for this?

"Today's one of those days," Scott said. "That's why they call it golf."

If there's a textbook on how to handle defeat with elegance and grace, Scott did it. He was so polite that he even ended the postgame presser by answering an insanely ridiculous question about -- and I can't make this up -- Freckleton, England.

Reporter: "Were your parents from Freckleton originally and did your grandmother have a house overlooking the course?"

Saintly Scott: "No, my parents are from Australia. … It's my dad's cousins that are from Freckleton. And I believe his aunt lived behind the 9th green once.

"That's the best I've got for you."

So the 42-year-old Els, whose game needed mouth-to-mouth as recently as four months ago, gets the Jug and his fourth career major. Scott gets Freckleton.

But it wasn't just Scott who suffered an Open Championship seizure. You couldn't swing a flagstick without hitting a contender in trouble.

Graeme McDowell and Brandt Snedeker were the ones who trailed Scott by four at the round's beginning. If they could make a little run, make Scott uncomfortable … well, who knows what happens.

Instead, McDowell shot a 5-over-par 75, Snedeker a 74.

"When you've just come off of three days of flat calm and then you're on the first tee and a 5-iron is getting knocked 25 yards right or left in the air -- it's a different type of golf," McDowell said. "It was really Open Championship golf today as opposed to the last three days. … You actually had to hit golf shots."

But nobody could -- except Els.

Tiger Woods started five behind Scott. At last, especially after his weekend failure at the recent U.S. Open, Woods was going to make his once traditional Sunday majors move.

Or not. He shot 73, including a grotesque triple-bogey 7 on the par-4 sixth hole.

The sixth is where Woods' Open Championship hopes grabbed a binky and took an afternoon nap. At one point, he looked like a yoga instructor as he contorted himself so he could lean over the steep lip of a greenside bunker for his fourth shot. Moments earlier, on his impossible third shot, he had had to dodge the ball as it caromed off the face of the bunker.

"We've all been in positions to win golf tournaments and sometimes people go ahead and win them and take them away from you," Woods said. "Other times we make mistakes. And that's just the way it goes."

Woods was talking about Els and Scott. But when it comes to mistakes, Woods made his share. He couldn't quite figure out the speed (or actually, the slowness) of the Royal Lytham & St. Annes greens. His short-iron play was sluggish and inconsistent.

And yet, keeping with the bizarreness of Sunday, he began the day at T-4, shot a 73 and moved up to T-3. He's now ranked second in the world, just behind Luke Donald.

A day earlier, Donald all but declared himself out of the mix. Then he shot 69 -- and finished T-5. Go figure.

There were lost balls (Snedeker). Snap hooks off the hosel (McDowell). Purposely hitting a bunker shot only 5 feet so he could wedge out on the next swing (McDowell, again). Sand adventures (Woods). Dullness (Vijay Singh's 18 consecutive pars).

But nothing compares with the implosion (Scott).

"I know I let a really good chance slip through my fingers," said Scott, 32.

And into the grateful, surprised hands of Els.

"This one, truly I was just hoping for a playoff this time," Els said.

Instead, he got to give the smooch of a lifetime. Apparently the Claret Jug likes older men.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter