Golf

Scott's collapse mirrors Norman's

Robert Lusetich recaps the final round of the British Open.
Robert Lusetich recaps the final round of the British Open.
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Robert Lusetich

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger's Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter.

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LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England

Adam Scott grew up wanting to emulate Greg Norman.

But not like this.

In 1996, a 15-year-old Scott awoke at 4 a.m. on a Monday in Australia eager to watch his hero, after so many heart-breaking losses, finally become the first Aussie to win the Masters.

The Shark, who finished second eight times at majors, had a six-shot lead going into the final round; it seemed un-losable, but Nick Faldo turned Norman’s coronation into a crucifixion and Scott cried.

It was Norman’s turn to shed tears for his protégé on a breezy Sunday afternoon by the northern English coast, after Scott managed to surrender a four-shot lead with four holes to play, a stunning collapse that handed the claret jug — and a fourth major — to a reborn Ernie Els at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

Norman, who’s playing in this week’s Senior British Open at Turnberry, was going to play golf on Sunday but quickly changed his plans once he saw the man he has mentored had a four-shot lead going into the final round of the 141st Open.

“I will watch every shot he hits,” Norman told me on Saturday night.

It all must have seemed so sickeningly familiar. For Scott’s implosion was so eerily reminiscent of the Shark’s many major mistakes.

“I don’t know what else you can make of it,” a dejected Scott acknowledged later when asked if his collapse was “Sharke-esque”.

Majors often are remembered not just for who won them, but also for who lost them. It was impossible to not feel for Scott, who is one of the most liked golfers on the circuit.

“I am happy for Ernie, but I feel sick right now,” fellow Aussie Geoff Ogilvy said. “There’s nothing to not like about him. Everyone likes Adam. He’s just a good bloke.”

The way Scott fell apart even made it something of a bittersweet victory for Els, who’s been a longtime friend of the 32-year-old’s. Els comforted him when they met in the scoring trailer after Scott’s 10-foot par putt to force a playoff stayed left of the cup.

“I feel bad for my buddy, Scotty, I really do,” the South African said. “I’ve been there before. I’ve blown majors before and golf tournaments before, and I just hope he doesn’t take it as hard as I did.

“I told him, ‘Don’t let this thing linger’.”

Even Tiger Woods, who fought his own demons in finishing with 73 — though it left him tied for third, his best finish at a major since 2009 — took a moment to reflect on what had happened to a man many once thought would be his heir.

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“It’s happened to all of us at one point or another,” he shrugged. “Just the way it goes.”

Only it didn’t have to go like that.

Scott had his breakthrough major in his control with four holes to play; Els’ clutch birdie putt on the final hole shouldn’t have mattered.

“I honestly thought when he striped it down the middle of 14, striped it down the middle of 15, this guy is going to win this and win it nicely,” said Graeme McDowell, who played with Scott and had his own frustrating 5-over finish.

“Little did I know.”

Scott missed the green from the middle of the 15th fairway and didn’t get up-and-down out of a bunker, then three-putted the next, horse-shoeing a 3-footer for par.

But on the 17th came the moment that will keep him awake at nights.

“He hit a great drive down the middle of 17, and had half of England right of that pin, and he missed it left,” McDowell said. “The alarm bells started to ring, I thought, ‘Hold on, We’ve got a problem here.’

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“It’s hard to watch a guy do that. He’s going to be extremely heartbroken.”

Scott tried to let a 3-wood drift with the left-to-right wind on the 18th but hit “a rocket” that didn’t move and finished in one of Lytham’s penal traps. From there he had to chip out and then hit a good wedge, leaving himself a 10-footer to force a playoff.

“There’s so many things to look back on but at the end of the day I had a putt to go to a playoff on the last and missed it,” Scott said. “If at the start of the week you give me that 10-footer for a playoff, I’m going to take it.

“But one of these days I’ve got to step up and make it.”

Inevitably, he was drawn into a discussion of Norman, and, like his idol, Scott made no excuses and took it all on the chin.

''Greg was my hero when I was a kid, and I thought he was a great role model, how he handled himself in victory and defeat,'' he said. “He set a good example for us. It's tough. I can't justify anything that I've done out there. I didn't finish the tournament well today.

''But next time — I'm sure there will be a next time, and I can do a better job of it.”

As he was leaving the quaint if claustrophobic links at Lytham, Scott took a moment to reflect on four days that changed his life.

“It’s golf,” he said, finally. “And that’s why we love it.”

Though some days, it’s got to be hard to love.

Tagged: Ernie Els, Adam Scott, Greg Norman

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