Ernie won his second British Open and fourth career major last Sunday, but for much of the week Els was absent from the top of the leaderboard. Though I enjoyed ESPN's coverage the first three days (day four's coverage was downright horrible), the fact the we saw very few Els shots was something I pointed out in the forum and on the Sunday chat.
Els remains one of the world's great ballstrikers, and though his 72nd-hole birdie putt put the pressure on Scott, if you were to go by ESPN's coverage you would think all Ernie ever did was miss 15-footers.
Coverage gripes aside, the 2012 British Open was several times more enjoyable than last year's, mostly thanks to the guys that didn't win. First off was Adam Scott, the 18-hole, 54-hole, and 71-hole leader. Brandt Snedeker led after the second round, and matched the Lytham and St. Annes British Open course record that Scott set on Thursday.
For Tiger Woods the theme of the round was "gameplan." Tiger routinely laid back off the tee, leading to 220-yard approach after 220-yard approach and a lot of long birdie opportunities. Closing out the top five and ties are Graeme McDowell, who spent most of the final round in second place, seemingly Scott's only competition, and world number one Luke Donald, who picked up the Lee Westwood gauntlet of backdoor top tens.
The 2012 British Open will likely be remembered in large part for the players who didn't win, so here are their stories.
Number Five: Luke Donald
As infrequently as Ernie Els was featured on the weekend coverage, Luke Donald's name came up even less often. We saw Donald wrap up the 18th hole as well as a few choice made putts along the back nine, but for the most part that was it. I'm not even quite sure he owns fairway woods or a driver.
Donald's game was never quite sharp at Royal Lythm, a phenomenon that's all but expected of Luke at this point. He buffered most of his birdies with a bogey or two, and added a sixth-hole double bogey on Saturday.
Donald is currently 34, and though not as old as his fellow majorless Brit, Lee Westwood, he doesn't have the type of game that has led to successful post-40 careers in the past. Like I said in my U.S. Open recap, Donald's driver is only going to get shorter as he ages, and his great short game might not always be there to make up for that.
Donald has only finished in the top 30 at a major championship 12 times dating back to 1999, and he's still missed the cut in at least one major every year since 2006.
Number Four: Graeme McDowell
For the second major in a row, Graeme McDowell was in the final grouping on Sunday. Also for the second time in a row, Graeme had a chance down the stretch but failed to take advantage, shooting an over-par score.
At the British, McDowell sat at seven-under after three straight rounds in the 60s (67, 69, 67). Not in great condition compared to where Adam Scott started, but certainly within striking position. A score of even-par would have gotten him into a playoff, and a 69 would have won him the tournament outright. He, like more players in the final few groups, faltered early and often, opening the path for Ernie's 68 to win him the Claret Jug.
Though McDowell is lauded as a stone-faced robot under pressure, he hasn't exactly been rock-solid down the stretch of majors. Even during his 2010 U.S. Open victory McDowell shot two-over on Sunday (though conditions at Pebble were brutal, and he finished the tournament the only player not over par). McDowell's major victory does give him latitude that players like Donald and Westwood won't get, but he has to be kicking himself after letting yet another great chance slip though his fingers.
Number Three: Brandt Snedeker
Brandt Snedeker came into the 2012 Open a three-time winner on the PGA Tour (same amount of wins as Bubba Watson had prior to his Masters, albeit with much less fanfare), a guy that everyone knows can play but one who has yet to fully make his mark.
After recording his first PGA Tour win at the 2007 Wyndham Championship, Brandt made his initial mark in majors at the 2008 Masters Tournament, when he recorded a T3 finish. He played well again at the U.S. Open that year, recovering from a first-round 76 to finish at +4, tied for ninth. He tied for eighth at the 2010 U.S. Open, and won his second event the next year at The Heritage.
Snedeker won his third Tour event earlier this year, when Kyle Stanley's 72nd-hole meltdown handed Snedeker a spot in a playoff, which he won on the second hole.
Snedeker got off to a great start at Lytham, standing at -10 after two rounds. Two over-par rounds on the weekend knocked him out of it though, and he finished at three-under, tied for third with Tiger Woods.
Number Two: Tiger Woods
Woods clearly had the most depressing final round by anyone not named "Adam Scott." Tiger, who started five shots back of Scott and one shot in front of Els, could have won outright with a 68, a score he had bettered on Thursday and Friday.
As I said earlier, Tiger's British Open was totally about the gameplan. Tiger, similar to the way he won at Hoylake in 2006, laid up consistently off the tee, opting mostly for long irons and fairway metals off the tee. That left Tiger with many approach shots of over 200 yards, and a lot of birdie putts of over 30 feet. Woods steered clear of many of Lytham's penal bunkers, but from that distance wasn't going to knock many irons stiff.
Woods, who went into the final round seven-under on the front nine, was cruising along through the first five holes until the sixth. After playing conservatively again off the tee, Tiger hit his approach shot into a greenside bunker, and was left with a fried-egg lie up against the sod-facing. Woods, drawing on the shot he and caddy Joe LaCava saw playing partner Thorbjorn Olesen hit the day before, attempted to go up-and-over the lip (a plan that, as he described in his post-round interview, also had the built-in back up that if his ball caromed off the riveting it would be in the flat part of the bunker, with enough room to get it onto the green).
Woods' shot didn't come off as he planned, as his ball impacted less than halfway up the face and kicked left, just inches from another lip. Woods hit his fourth shot from his knees, and managed to ricochet it off the top of the face and onto the green, from where he three-putted.
Even though he chipped in for birdie on the next hole, the triple bogey put Tiger severely behind the eight ball, a mistake compounded by bogeys on the 13th, 14th, and 15th.
Though his 14 major championships speak for themselves, Tiger is under a sort of pressure that Westwood and Donald could only have nightmares about. Woods has won three top-flight PGA Tour events this year, is second in the OWGR, leads the U.S. in Ryder Cup points, and leads the PGA Tour in money and FedExCup points. He is, by all accounts, the Player of the Year leader, and yet he's still not "back."
For better (if he breaks the record) or worse (if he doesn't), Tiger's career will always be graded on whether or not he gets to 19 major victories. It's the standard he set for himself and it's the standard we've accepted, but it might be time to accept Tiger Woods, the best golfer in the world, instead of Tiger Woods, the most dominate force in sports.
He's got one last chance at Kiawah Island, and if he doesn't win, no matter how many Tour events he accrues between now and the end of the year, you can be certain the Tiger Woods narrative this offseason won't be overly optimistic.
Number One: Adam Scott
The 2012 British Open, like his career, started off well enough for Adam Scott. He equalled the course record in the first round with a 64, and followed that up with a 67 and a 68. Scott held a seemingly insurmountable four-shot lead going into the final round, and though he had been in contention in majors before, he had never played in the final grouping.
We all know how it ended, but Scott's collapse was far from typical. He made a bogey on the first hole but immediately responded with a birdie. He made the turn at nine-under, and his lead remained commanding.
Scott made par on every hole from the eighth to the 13th, and he showed few signs of slowing down after a birdie on 14 (though his pars on seven and 11 broke his streak of making birdies on every par-five of the tournament).
The first hole of his collapse was the 15, where Scott failed to get up-and-down from a greenside bunker. He compounded that miscue with a three-putt on 16, and his lead over Els was down to two strokes. Els birdied the final hole to post seven-under as Scott played the 17th. Adam flew his approach over the green, and was unable to get the ball close from Lytham's thick rough.
Scott stood on the 18th tee tied with Els, needing a par to force a playoff. He hit a wood off the tee, not unusual for the game he had been playing that week, but he found one of Lytham's 206 bunkers. He was forced to pitch out, and needed to get up and down from the fairway to tie Els. A great iron shot left him eight feet, but his putt missed left all the way.
It wasn't one facet of the game or another that let Scott down (though his broomstick putter wasn't exactly on fire), but a few missed shots here and there led to his demise.
Closing and Your Thoughts?
Avenging the horror show that was the 2011 Open at Royal St. George's, the 2012 British was exciting right up until the last putt. Though he only popped up on ESPN's coverage every now and then, Ernie Els' stirring final putt overshadowed the tank-job that was the rest of the leaderboard.
Adam Scott began the day with a four-shot lead, a lead he still held with four holes to play. Tiger Woods started five-back, and will be kicking himself after letting another major opportunity slip through his grasp. Graeme McDowell was in contention for the second straight major championship, but was unable to seal the deal. Brandt Snedeker failed to keep up his early-round play. And Luke Donald snuck into the top five though never actually competing in the Open.
This was one of my favorite Opens in a while, was it equally entertaining for you?