LYTHAM ST ANNES - Ernie Els kept saying all week that he felt something special was going to happen for him in a tournament he's extremely fond of that was being held on a golf course he loves.
Five shots behind pace-setting Adam Scott at the turn and four shots in arrears with three holes to play Sunday, the extraordinary happened for Els as he birdied the last hole at Royal Lytham & St Annes and won the British Open when Scott finished with four consecutive bogeys.
The stunning reversal of fortunes left Els numb but with his fourth major title and first since winning this championship in 2002. Often wandering in professional golf's wilderness the past five years - his putter was wayward and his game just a bit off - Els nonetheless never gave up his quest to regain his past, and he finally rekindled his best form on the western coast of England.
He did so on a day when wind blowing off the Irish Sea allowed Lytham to finally show its teeth - and fangs in many places. Els, with birdies at 10, 12, 14 and 18, was the only player to break par among the last five groups to tee off and shot a final-round 2-under-par 68 to finish at 7 under, one shot ahead of Scott, who was the overnight leader by four and seemed in total control until he arrived at the 15th tee box Sunday and finished with a 75.
Tiger Woods, trying to win his 15th major and first since the 2008 U.S. Open, finished with a 73 and shared third place with Brandt Snedeker (74), four shots behind Els. Woods did, however, move to No. 2 in the world. Another stroke back was world No. 1 Luke Donald (69) and Graeme McDowell (75), who shared fifth.
Els becomes the 16th different player to win in the past 16 majors.
"For some reason I felt something good was going to come out of this week," said Els, who tied for second here in the 1996 Open and tied for third in the 2001 Open at Lytham. "Even if I didn't win I was going to feel good about it because of all the work we've put in. My game is back to where I feel I can compete. If it wasn't this year, I feel I can compete in it next year.
"Obviously I'm so happy that I've won. But I've been on the other end more times than I've actually been on the winning end. And it's not a good feeling. I'm speaking for myself, and I think Adam is a little bit different than I am. I did see him afterwards in the scorer's hut, and he seemed OK. I really said to him, 'I'm sorry how things turned out.' I told him that I've been there many times and you've just got to bounce back quickly. Don't let this thing linger."
That's Scott's hope, too.
"We'll see. I've never really been in this position, so I'll have to wait and see how I feel when I wake up (Monday)," said Scott, who will defend his title in the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational in two weeks.
Scott woke up Sunday with a four-shot lead. He shot a course record-tying 64 in the first round and 67-68 the next two. Although staggered by three bogeys in his first six holes in the final round, a birdie from 20 feet at No. 14 moved him to 10 under and four shots clear of the field. The carnage started at the 15th when a poor drive into a pot bunker led to a bogey. He missed a 3-footer for par on 16, couldn't get up-and-down from thick grass behind the 17th green for another bogey and drove into a fairway bunker on 18.
After laying up from the bunker on 18 and hitting his third to 8 feet, his final attempt at salvation slipped by on the left side.
"I don't think so," Scott, 32, said when asked if he would shed some tears. "Maybe it hasn't sunk in yet. But maybe there will be a bit more disappointment when I get home and kind of wind down. I haven't even wound down. I feel like I've just walked off the course and it's all a lot to digest, and I feel fine at the moment.
"But I'm a positive guy. I'm optimistic and I want to take all the good stuff that I did this week and use that for the next time I'm out on the course. I didn't finish the tournament well today. But next time - I'm sure there will be a next time - I will do a better job of it."
McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion, was playing in the final group for the second consecutive major. At the Olympic Club in the U.S. Open, a birdie chance on the 72nd hole missed, and he wound up one shot behind. At Lytham, he was out of it by the 11th hole, done in by four bogeys in his first 10 holes.
"It was a tough day at the office, no doubt about it," McDowell said. "I struggled early in the cross breeze. There's disappointment, but a great experience."
Els said he did his best work on the back nine, but it was a bogey on the ninth hole that he said was a key to the round. When he went to the 10th tee, he was five shots back - but in his mind he was far from out of the tournament.
"I was really angry with myself at nine, and it really got me aggressive," Els said. "I hit a lot of drivers on the back nine, and I was just trying to make birdies. I felt good. I wasn't ahead, I wasn't behind, I was right in the moment, for once. I was really just playing the shot in the moment.
"And when you've been around as long as I have, you've seen a lot of things happen. And I just felt that the golf course is such if you just doubt it a little bit, it was going to bite you. There are too many bunkers, too much trouble, and there was a bit of a breeze. So I felt I was going to hit the shots, and I felt I had a chance."
That was especially true because he was at Lytham in the British Open.
"I've always enjoyed this course, and I've always enjoyed the Open Championship, the challenge," Els said. "I just for some reason felt good. We found something in my swing earlier this week and the whole thing came together and I was in a good frame of mind.
"So for once it all came together."
And all fell apart for Scott.
By Steve DiMeglio