The Big Easy Wins Another Big One
In the most unbelievable of fashions, 42-year-old Ernie Els is once again a major champion. Els, the 2002 British Open Champion, won his second claret jug on Sunday after a monumental collapse from Adam Scott basically gift-wrapping the championship to the big South African. Scott, who was four strokes ahead with four holes to play made costly mistakes down the stretch and, after Els rammed in a 20-foot birdie putt on 18, Scott needed to make a 10-foot par attempt to force a playoff. It slid right, and Els, who was casually eating a sandwich on the practice green, was crowned champion. In a twist of fate only suitable for the British Open, it was Els’ often-criticized putting that eventually won him this tournament. On Sunday, Els’ major experience ultimately trumped that of his challengers and, as is usually the case in major championships, the man who made the least amount of mistakes emerged as the winner.
Adam Scott’s Greg Norman-esque collapse
For all the talk of Els’ victory, there was an equal amount of heartbreak for Adam Scott. The young Australian – already with 18 worldwide victories to his credit – was primed to finally win the big one. He was playing the best golf of anyone for the first 68 holes of the tournament, and then, as quickly as the wind blows from the Atlantic, his steady hand and unshakeable demeanor was gone. Bogey on 15, bogey on 16 (the easiest hole on the course), bogey on 17, and then, when only a par would win the championship for him, he fires a three-wood into the facing of a fairway bunker. Game over. All the credit to him, his third shot landed only about 10-feet from the hole, but his long putter’s magic had long deserted him and he pulled the put just left. Scott was the leader after the first round thanks to a dazzling 64, and held (what seemed like) an insurmountable four-stroke lead heading into Sunday. But, as his countryman Greg Norman proved time and time again, no major lead is safe until the final putt drops. Norman, he of copious major heartbreaks, was always ‘gracious in victory and defeat’ said Scott after his collapse, and despite his all-class response, you could tell that he knew he let a big one slip away.
Finally, a British Open
It took until Sunday, but we were finally given a British Open. The wind picked up, there were a few drops of rain, and golfers were hacking their way all across the English links layout. After a summer of heavy rain, and then a week of glorious sunshine – well, as glorious as sunshine can be in England – the course was playing soft and lush; two words that are never usually associated with links golf. With that said, the course was also yielding some very non-British Open like scores – Adam Scott’s opening 64, two 65s from German Nicholas Colserts, and a 10-under par total after two rounds for Brandt Snedeker. For the first time in years there were no rounds of 80 or above in the first round. But finally on Sunday Royal Lytham started to show it’s teeth. Tiger Woods ended up looking like this on no.6 – on his way to a triple bogey – Graeme McDowell cold-topped a fairway wood on no.11, and at least 10 of the guys who were within shouting distance of the lead after Saturday were over par on Sunday. Sports Illustrated’s Alan Shipnuck called it one of the most boring British Open’s in recent memory. Although I don’t entirely agree with that statement, the fact that it took until the 68th hole of a 72 hole tournament to conjure up some excitement makes it tough to argue against. Coincidentally, next year’s British Open returns to Murfield for the first time since 2002, the site of Ernie Els’ last British Open victory.
This week, the PGA Tour heads north of the border to the Hamilton Golf & Country Club for the 103rd playing of the RBC Canadian Open. I’ve attended the last two Canadian Opens in person – at St Georges in Etobicoke, and at Shaughnessey in Vancouver, and will be in attendance again on Wednesday at Hamilton helping to cover some of the event for Flagstick. Hamilton has hosted the event four times: in 1919, 1930, 2003, and 2006. The return to Hamilton in 2003 after over 70 years was met with high praise from the pros who teed it up that week. Overall it should be an exciting week, despite the fact that weather will be a factor on Thursday and Friday. After losing long-time sponsor, Bell, in the mid-2000s, the tournament went through a couple of lean years before RBC stepped up to the plate. RBC has since become one of the premier sponsors in the game, not only representing a long list of players on the PGA and LPGA Tours, but also sponsoring the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head – a tournament that was at risk of having to drop out of the schedule if no sponsor was found for this year’s playing.
There are 23 Canadians playing in this year’s tournament, all of whom are vying to become the first Canadian since Pat Fletcher in 1954 to win the nation’s championship, one of the oldest in golf. The closest one has come since then was Mike Weir in 2004, who lost in a playoff to world no.1 Vijay Singh. Adam Hadwin looks to build on his t-5 finish last year in Vancouver with another strong showing, but Canada’s best bet this year most likely lies on the shoulders of Graham Delaet. Delaet is one of the best drivers of the golf ball on Tour and is playing extremely well this season, bouncing back from injury last year.
Hard not to pick Hunter Mahan to be the eventual champion this week, as the newest member of Team RBC is coming off his third straight top-20 finish and already has two victories on the year. With accuracy a premium this week, no one is better than Mahan this year who leads the Tour in ball-striking. A top-tier winner like Mahan will do wonders for the tournament moving forward.