Most major championships are remembered for the golfer who prevailed over the field, the one name etched into the history books for all of eternity.
Others are burned into our memories for the poor unfortunate soul whose opportunity met its untimely demise at the hands of the golf gods, forever lingering in our thoughts for what could have been.
And then there are those uncommon few tournaments which serve both categories, the rare occasions which both celebrate the champion and empathize with the hard-luck loser.
The 2012 edition of the Open Championship fit this profile exactly – and that’s why it lands at No. 7 on GolfChannel.com’s list of Top Newsmakers of the Year.
When the final round came to a dramatic conclusion, Ernie Els and Adam Scott were a mere 50 yards from each other, but couldn’t have felt further apart. Already a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Els won his fourth major title while anxiously chipping golf balls onto the square practice green next to the clubhouse at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. He never saw that he won, instead hearing the groan over the hedges separating him from the 18th green before one observer screamed, ‘Yes, Ernie!” and bedlam ensued, with all manner of officials and cameramen and onlookers rushing toward the newest champion.
On the other side of those hedges was an inherently dissimilar scene. Scott easily led in his race for a first major with four holes to play. He then bogeyed the 15th, bogeyed the 16th and bogeyed the 17th. A par on the last would only force a playoff with Els, but he bogeyed that one, too. It left him defeated, like a boxer who was just knocked out, but never knew what hit him.
And so while a parade of bystanders rushed toward Els, everyone near the 18th green tried to avert their gaze from Scott, who drew instant comparison with Jean Van de Velde thanks to his late-Sunday struggles at the world’s oldest tournament.
That was so much the case that even in victory, the Big Easy – for whom winning had become increasingly difficult in recent years and whose last major triumph came a decade earlier – could only muster a subdued celebration.
“I'm still numb; it still hasn't set in,” he said just minutes after getting his hands on the claret jug for a second time. “It will probably take quite a few days because I haven't been in this position for 10 years, obviously, so it's just crazy, crazy, crazy getting here.”
Many believed Els wouldn’t get there again – and Els had to count himself among that group at times, too. But just as quickly as he spoke of what the victory meant for himself, his thoughts turned to what the loss was doing to Scott at that very moment.
“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.”
For his part, Scott was crestfallen yet classy in the aftermath, answering every agonizing question about the collapse, describing his decisions in vivid detail and reliving exactly where so many of them went horribly wrong.
“That's what was to be expected coming in here,” he explained. “It's a championship golf course, it's very difficult. And you've got to play some good shots to win those golf tournaments, and I wasn't able to do that the last few holes. Sure, I am very disappointed. But I felt like I played well this week, and it was probably a great chance.”
After the conclusion had been reached, after Els heard through the hedges that he was the latest Open champion, after Scott wrote himself into the annals of history’s biggest major messes, the two friends found each other and summoned the words they knew the other deserved to hear.
“He said he felt for me and not to beat myself up,” Scott said. “He said he beat himself up a little bit when he'd lost or had a chance – not lost them, but had a chance to win. And he felt I'm a great player and I can go on to win majors, which is nice.”
This major, though, will forever be remembered for the both the fortuitous winner and calamitous loser, inextricably linked by their divergent paths to the end result. It made for a fascinating culmination – and made this tournament one of the top newsmakers of the 2012 season.