LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – It wasn’t Jean Van de Velde, there was no winding burn, no ridiculous ricochet, no dumbfounded Frenchman standing in shin-deep water watching the claret jug flow away with the tide, but that won’t make the wound heal any faster.
In a flurry of late bogeys and clutch birdies, Adam Scott went from a four-stroke favorite on a victory lap to a forlorn loser stunned by blows self-inflicted and otherwise.
Within 45 minutes on an overcast and windswept day at Royal Lytham & St. Annes the Australian, who had posted just four bogeys through 54 holes, dropped four shots starting at the 15th hole to finish a stroke behind Open champion Ernie Els.
Not since Van de Velde in 1999 at Carnoustie has a claret jug been ripped so ruthlessly from a champion’s grasp, not since Tom Watson in ’09 at Turnberry has there been such a collective pang for an also-ran.
“It may not have sunk in yet,” said Scott, who followed near-flawless cards of 64-67-68 with Sunday’s 75 to finish at 6 under. “Hopefully I will be able to move on.”
On the eve of Sunday’s final 18, Scott received a text message from his idol Greg Norman. We’re not sure what the often-jilted “Shark” had to say, but given how things played out he should have suggested, “Don’t look down.”
For the better part of 14 holes on Sunday Scott had sidestepped trouble on a golf course that after three benign days developed a breezy punch. Wind gusts to 30 mph greeted the field on Day 4 but after starting his round bogey-birdie-bogey Scott turned in 2 over and was seemingly in control of his game and his emotions.
“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.”
Even after bogeys at Nos. 15 and 16 Scott didn’t have the look of a man in need of a lifeline and he was still two shots clear of Els, who had failed to birdie the short par-4 16th hole.
But in a championship blur everything changed.
Els, who closed with a 68, dropped his approach shot at the last 15 feet left of the pin and ignited the Lytham crowd with a closing birdie. Moments later, Scott’s 6-iron from 176 yards started too far left of the 17th green and rode the wind into trouble for his third consecutive bogey.
“Looking back at it the shot into 17 is the most disappointing,” said Scott, lapsing into the type of retrospection that promises to fill his next few days if not months.
Needing a par at the last to force a playoff, Scott pulled his drive into one of Lytham’s 205 bunkers, was forced to chip out sideways and his 10-foot par putt “was never on line.” The final line: 68 solid, if not spectacular holes, and a 4-over-through-four finish.
The Australian who lives in Switzerland and went to college in Las Vegas was undone in a New York minute.
For Scott, whose major resume before last year had been devoid of any redeeming qualities, the 141st Open Championship was his best chance to get off the major schnied, the culmination of a master plan that took root in early 2011 and has transformed this one-time afterthought into a world beater, again.
In order, he changed caddies (Stevie Williams), putters (long) and his schedule all with an eye toward – with respect to the rank-and-file PGA Tour schedule – the only four weeks that matter in golf, at least to a player of Scott’s caliber.
Before 2011, Scott had just 4 top-10s, and no real chance, in 39 major starts. He has now matched that total since rededicating himself last season, including runner-up showings at Augusta National (2011) and the British Open.
Trending, however, will do little to sooth Sunday’s sting.
In the aftermath of Scott’s 4-over finish, Els put a knowing arm across his the Australian’s shoulder.
“I said to him, ‘I’m sorry how things turned out. I’ve been there many times and you’ve just got to bounce back quickly. Don’t let this thing linger,’” Els said. “I feel for him, but thankfully he’s young enough.”
If Van de Velde’s collapse was acute, Scott’s meltdown was chronic, a slow burning pain that built to a fatal blow. The result, however, was the same, only the quality of the player demands distinction. Coming to terms with what happened at Lytham will likely be an even slower process.
“I know I’ve let a really great chance slip through my fingers today,” Scott said quietly. “But I’ll take the positives from it. I don’t know if I’ve ever played this well in a major.”
It’s not a claret jug, but from the ashes of Lytham Sunday it’s a start.