|Even though he trailed by 6 shots at the start of the final round, Ernie Els had a feeling on Saturday night.|
"For some reason I've got some belief this week," he said after the third round. "I feel something special can happen."
Wow, was he right.
Prophetic ability aside, Els displayed so many qualities of a major champion on Sunday at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
On the toughest day for scoring, weather-wise, Els shot a 3-under 67. On the toughest day for scoring with a major championship on the line, Els stuck to his game plan, like hitting driver at 16.
He applied the pressure to Adam Scott and sadly, but very clearly, it affected the young Aussie. We'll never know how Scott would've reacted if a more pedestrian name than Els had the been the closest pursuer, but all that is known is that Els is the 2012 Open Champion.
What was even more impressive was the class Els displayed in victory.
"First of all, I feel for my buddy Adam Scott," is how Els opened his acceptance speech. "Scotty, you're a great player, great friend of mine. We've had some great battles. I feel very fortunate. You're going to win many of these. You have too much talent."
Historically, there's plenty of significance.
Already a Hall of Famer, Els became the fourth golfer to win a major after his induction into golf's shrine. The other names? Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Lee Trevino.
It was his fourth major title. He has two U.S. Open titles (1994, 1997) and now has two Open titles (2002, 2012). Els has major titles in three different decades and joined Nicklaus, Trevino, Tiger Woods, Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones to win the U.S. Open and Open Championship twice.
Next year he will head back to Muirfield, the site of his '02 victory as the defending champion.
AGONY FOR SCOTT
As classy as Els was on Sunday, Scott was, too.
He endured every question about his emotions, every question about those final four holes and did so without snapping at anyone.
"I'm pretty disappointed," he said. "I had it in my hands and managed to hit a poor shot at each of the closing four holes. I'm very, very disappointed, but I played so beautifully for most of the week I certainly should not let this get me down."
This event marked the first time Scott was in the final pairing of a major championship on the weekend. He held a 4-shot lead with four to go and blew it all.
His 8-foot par putt at the last looked good, but slid left.
"Surprisingly I was incredibly calm and I still am. I thought I could roll that last putt in, but I didn't and that's golf," Scott said.
Actually, the agony may have been at its worst when ESPN showed his name traced on the championship medal.
TIME TO WORRY, RORY?
Since Rory McIlroy romped to victory last year at the U.S. Open Championship, it has not been the smoothest of sailing for the young lad from Northern Ireland.
Yes, he has been the No. 1 player in the world rankings and he's won twice, but McIlroy's been a non-factor in some of golf's biggest events.
In 2011, McIlroy tied for 25th at The Open Championship, then, after he hurt his wrist, but marched on, tied for 64th at the PGA Championship.
This year, he shared 40th at the Masters, missed the cut at The Players, then did so again at the BMW PGA Championship and Memorial. After a good week at the St. Jude Classic, McIlroy once again gave himself the weekend off, this time in his title defense at the U.S. Open.
McIlroy showed such promise with a 3-under 67 in the opening round this week at Royal Lytham. He went 75-73-73 and was done in time on Sunday to watch his good friend Graeme McDowell play his whole final round in the final pairing.
"I think the thing for me is to stay patient," McIlroy said.
Patience, is, as they say, a virtue, but how soon before that patience McIlroy is preaching wears out? There's no timetable, according to the man himself.
"It's no big deal if it doesn't start to happen in the next couple of weeks," he said. "It's a 20-year career so I'm not going to get wound up about what happens in the short term. I'm just going to keep plugging away and eventually it will come around."
* Els moved to 15th in the world rankings, while Scott goes to sixth and Tiger Woods up to second.
* It appeared that Scott might be called for a penalty on Sunday. At the seventh, with his ball off the green, Scott took a few practice strokes, then walked up to the green. When he was up by the putting surface, his ball moved. He was deemed to have not broken any rules and parred the hole.
* Tiger Woods had a plugged lie near the lip of a bunker at six. Instead of taking an unplayable, he tried to muscle one out and it went backwards, nearly hitting the three-time Open Champion in the arm. The ball was near the side lip of the bunker, so Woods played his fourth kneeling down and barely got it on to the putting surface. He three-putted for triple bogey.
* The hardest hole for the week was the par-4 sixth, which played to an average of 4.47.
* The easiest hole was the par-4 16th, which played to an average of 3.84.
* The next major championship is in three weeks when Keegan Bradley will defend his title at the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.