They said Els had lost it… they're not saying that any more after his triumph at Lytham
23:14 GMT, 23 July 2012
The sweetest moment of Ernie Els's career There's nothing to compare to holing that 12-foot birdie putt on Royal Lytham's final green on Sunday when nothing else would do.
Not for the man who missed six putts in a row from less than that distance on the final six holes of the 2004 Open to lose out to Todd Hamilton.
Not for someone who was a standing joke in the eyes of former Ryder Cup player David Feherty as recently as March.
Open winner: Els celebrates his last-gasp success at Royal Lytham on Sunday
Cast your mind back to the Transitions Championship in Florida, won by Luke Donald but thrown away by Els as he missed three short putts on the final three greens.
'Did you have the confidence standing over those putts' asked television commentator Steve Sands, a question loaded with a sub-plot if ever there was. Did you choke The next day, in an exhibition event called the Tavistock Cup, Feherty ramped up the cruelty.
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'Here's Ernie, who has just had a frontal lobotomy and will be putting today with a live rattlesnake,' he told the crowd.
Believe it or not, some people found that funny. Watching anyone struggle on the greens is no joke, but watching someone with Els's gifts was excruciating. How could a sport give so much to someone from tee to green and then take it away once he got there
Missing those putts in Florida cost Els his spot at the Masters, the event he always seemed destined to win. That's it, we thought, the tipping point. Aged 42, next stop – oblivion. Time to blend into the background and admire fellow South Africans who grew up wanting to swing the club and win majors like he did and pulled it off. Men like Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen.
Yet Ernie did not accept the rationale. He did not do like Feherty did when the going got tough. He did not quit. The following week he finished fourth at the Arnold Palmer
Invitational. A month later, a runner's-up spot in New Orleans got him into the US Open where he finished tied ninth.
'It is a crazy game,' he said recently in an interview with The Scotsman. 'When you are a kid you grow up wanting to be, say, Ernie Els. Then, when you're Ernie you try to play like you did when you were a kid.'
Pain to gain: Els suffers with his putter in Florida earlier this year
On one of the hardest back nines in golf on Sunday, Ernie, after all those lost years of toil, finally found his inner kid. Suddenly the putts started to drop.
Providence, having taken so many majors from him – he has been runner-up six times – handed one back at last. It still came down to a 12-foot putt, though.
Watching anyone struggle on the greens is no joke
Ultimately, Adam Scott's collapse would have meant nothing if Els had not helped himself. From a perfect camera angle, you could see him swing the putter straight and true and the ball never looked like going anywhere else but the bottom of the hole. Take that, Feherty.
Asked to assess his career before the momentous events of last week, Els said he thought he should have won five or six majors to rank alongside Seve Ballesteros or Sir Nick Faldo.
That sounds about right to me and, by ending the long drought and winning his fourth, there is every hope he might now get there, following a victory on Sunday that was celebrated everywhere outside Australia.
When it was over, Els jumped on a plane to Canada and a corporate bash. The Claret Jug has just completed an exhaustive journey around the world in the hands of a popular protagonist and you can be sure Els will enjoy it every bit as much as Darren Clarke. And where will it all end in 2013 Muirfield, the scene of his previous Open triumph in 2002. Sweet, indeed.
It's only a game
Someone clearly forgot to tell Adam Scott that these days every tear in defeat adds up to a waterfall of popular acclaim. Thank goodness for that. The 18th green at Royal Lytham made for a wonderful scene on Sunday. After a gripping finale, the victor shook hands with the loser, one man made a speech fit for a statesman while the other held his head high. Let's be grateful to Scott for the reminder that sport still works best when people remember it is only a game.
Second best: Scott missed out on Open glory after blowing a healthy lead in the closing stages
Royal Lytham is No 1
They say you can tell the quality of a course by the calibre of its champions and Ernie Els's victory means the only people who have won The Open at Lytham in the modern era remain golfers who have spent time during their careers as world No 1.
That is a heck of a testament to this fabled links given the efforts Mother Nature made to disguise its natural character on this occasion. Els's final-round 68 was his 39th in the sixties during his Open career. That's two more than Sir Nick Faldo managed, followed by Jack Nicklaus (33), Tom Watson (29) and Greg Norman (26). That's not a bad list to lead, is it
The streak goes on: Els became the 16th different winner from as many majors
And so the streak goes on. That makes it 16 winners of the last 16 major championships. We have had six Americans, three South Africans, three Northern Irishmen, and one representative each from Argentina, Korea, Germany and Ireland. Still no Englishman, though.
When you think the list does not include Tiger Woods and five other Americans ranked in the world's top 14, Adam Scott plus a certain three Englishmen ranked in the world's top 10, we might be here a while yet. Incidentally, Woods's top-five finish means he has broken the UK's stranglehold of the top three ranking positions, with only Luke Donald now ahead of him.
Quote of the Week
'I can't deny the belly putter has been great for me, but I certainly won't be complaining if the authorities ban it. It isn't the way golf is supposed to be played and if they ban it that will be fine with me.'
Could the case for getting rid of these wretched things be expressed more eloquently considering these comments were made by Ernie Els, the man who just ended the week as the new Open champion
Perhaps someone could put them in front of the rules committee of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, who are reviewing their controversial use, with a statement expected by the autumn.