Australia's Adam Scott looks on in disbelief after blowing a four-shot lead with four holes to play Sunday at the British Open.
LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — Adam Scott, meet Jean Van de Velde.
And Ed Sneed.
And Phil Mickelson.
With a stunning meltdown, Scott gave away the claret jug Sunday and joined an infamous list of the greatest collapses in golf history. The Aussie bogeyed the final four holes of the British Open to finish one stroke behind Ernie Els, who was almost apologetic about the way he won.
"I'm still numb," Els said. "Crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy. It's a crazy game."
Scott missed a 7-footer at the final hole that would have forced a playoff, his knees buckling as the ball slid by the left edge of the cup. Then, after somehow composing himself and signing his scorecard, he had to return to the same green where his hopes were crushed to accept the runner-up prize.
"I know I let a really great chance slip through my fingers," Scott said.
Indeed, this was a blow to gut that will certainly take a while to get over, and it's unlikely Scott will ever be able to put it totally out of his mind. He played brilliantly for three straight days, building a four-shot advantage heading to the final round, and he was still up by four after what seemed a clinching birdie at the 14th.
Then he knocked one in a bunker on 15. Bogey. Then he missed a 3-footer at the next hole. Another bogey. Then he hit his worst shot of the whole tournament, an iron from the middle of the fairway that missed left and rolled into some tall grass, leading to a third straight bogey. Up ahead, Els was already done, having birdied the 18th with a clutch 15-footer. As Scott stepped to the final tee, his lead was gone.
Not surprisingly, he drove it in a bunker, leaving himself no other option except to punch out into the fairway. A brilliant shot from 150 yards gave him a chance, but the tall putter that served him so well all week petered out at the end.
Els celebrated on the practice green but wasn't real sure how to react.
"I've got to figure it out still," he said. "Obviously, I'm happy to have won. But I've been on the other end more than the winning end. It's not a good feeling."
There's plenty of guys who know how that feels:
— In a historical context, Scott's flop ranks alongside Sneed's loss at the 1979 Masters. Sneed began the final round with a five-stroke lead and, despite a few wobbles along the way, was still in good position to win coming down the stretch. Three shots ahead. Three holes to play. But, suddenly, his game fell apart. Or, more specifically his putter. Sneed bogeyed the last three holes and lost to Fuzzy Zoeller in a sudden-death playoff. Sneed never came so close again to capturing a major title.
— Jason Dufner also knows how Scott feels. In the final round of last year's PGA Championship, Dufner stepped to the 15th tee with a four-stroke lead on the field and a five-shot edge on Keegan Bradley. But three straight bogeys by Dufner — hmmm, that sounds familiar — and two straight birdies by Bradley forced a three-hole playoff. Bradley won by a stroke. "Maybe looking back in 10 or 15 years, I'll be disappointed if I never get another chance," Dufner said, in words that are fitting for the 32-year-old Scott. "But I have a feeling I'll have more chances in a major to close one out."
— Of course, Van de Velde's collapse on the 72nd hole of the 1999 British Open is one all others are measured by. The Frenchman had the claret jug in the bag, going to the 72nd hole with a three-shot lead. Instead of playing it safe, he pulled out the driver and knocked his tee shot into the thick rough at Carnoustie. Then he hit it off a grandstand. Then a burn. After briefly considering a whack out of a creek, he took a drop. His now fifth shot went in a bunker, and he needed a testy up-and-down for triple-bogey just to get in a playoff. Alas, he was defeated by Paul Lawrie. Like Sneed, Van de Velde never came close again.
— For pure shock value, it's hard to beat Arnold Palmer throwing away the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic Club. The game's most popular player started the final round with a three-shot lead, and stretched it to seven at the turn. Billy Casper played brilliantly on the back nine, but Palmer was still ahead by five going to the 15th. That's when it all fell apart. Casper birdied the next two holes. Palmer bogeyed them. Palmer made his third straight bogey at the 17th, and the lead was gone. Even though he made par at 18 to force a playoff, Casper prevailed the following day. Palmer would never get his eighth major title.
— Then there's the Mickelson stunner at the 2006 U.S. Open. Lefty threw away a chance to win his third straight major with a staggering display of errant swings and ditzy decisions. He struggled all day to control his driver, but kept pulling it out of the bag. He did it again at the 18th, needing a par to win or just a bogey to force a playoff. His drive struck a hospitality tent. He attempted to slice the next one under some trees, but caught a branch. Then he plugged one in a back bunker, leading to a double-bogey that gave the championship to Geoff Ogilvy. Lefty's assessment afterward was priceless: "I am such an idiot."
— Greg Norman was feeling the same way after his performance on the final day of the 1996 Masters, and there's certainly a kinship between the Shark and Scott, who grew up idolizing his countryman. But Norman's dismal showing in the final round at Augusta was an 18-hole effort in futility, not just a late choke job. Starting with a six-shot lead on Nick Faldo, he had thrown it away the time he made a third straight bogey at the 11th. When his tee shot at the 12th caught the bank and rolled back into Rae's Creek, it was effectively over. The remaining holes were a coronation for Faldo, a death march for Norman. He finished with a 78, losing to Faldo by five strokes. "I let it slip away," Norman moaned.
— Finally, let's give a nod to Sam Snead, one of the game's all-time greats but also remembered for squandering his two best chances to win the U.S. Open. In 1939, he could've won with a par on the 72nd hole but thought he needed a birdie (hey, give him a break, the scoreboard technology wasn't what it is today). Playing aggressively, Snead made a mess of things for a triple-bogey. But 1947 might have been even worse: Snead built a two-stroke lead on Lew Worsham with three holes left in a playoff. Worsham birdied the 16th and Snead bogeyed the 17th to even things up. Then, after Worsham suddenly called for a ruling on who was away at the 18th, Snead missed a 2½-foot putt. Worsham rolled in a slightly shorter one to take the victory.
And, now, Scott joins the list.