LYTHAM ST ANNES, England (Reuters) - British Opens at Lytham have always thrown up drama and intrigue and Sunday’s gut-wrenching collapse by Adam Scott to hand Ernie Els his fourth major title was no exception.
From Bobby Jones paying to play his fourth round before winning the first Lytham Open in 1926 to Seve Ballesteros hitting a shot from a car park in 1979 on his way to victory, the Lancashire course has delivered remarkable stories.
“I’ve never seen an Open quite like this,” said one fan to another amid a sea of spectators crammed against the railings on the 18th hole as Scott’s tee shot scuttled into a bunker.
“Oh Adam,” gasped the crowd in unison, the Australian’s title-tilt fast running out of steam.
Australian Scott, overnight leader by four shots and in complete control for most of the last round, carded four consecutive bogies on the closing holes to allow South African Els to sneak in through the side door.
So unexpected was the 42-year-old’s win that as he putted out at the 15th green police officers ambled obliviously across the walkway near the green despite frantic waves from marshals pleading them to stop.
At that point Scott was coasting and as challengers faded away fans flitted impatiently between the final few groups, mingling in hope rather than expectation for a dramatic conclusion.
The spectators certainly found inspiration again when Els came into the reckoning with a brilliant birdie at the last to finish on seven under par.
“I heard it. I didn’t even have to look at the leaderboard to realize the situation,” Scott told a news conference of the roar that erupted on the 18th when Els struck his telling blow.
Els, who finished with a two-under 68, himself said the role of the huge galleries had spurred him on to victory.
“They were behind me the whole week, and as I said to them, I think they were behind me just as a past champion,” he said.
“The last four holes we had a magnificent crowd. They were really rooting for me and really inspired me.”
Els was the latest in a long line of great champions to have triumphed at Lytham on the 11th occasion the course has hosted the oldest of the four majors.
The former world number one joined Americans Jones, Tom Lehman and David Duval, South Africans Bobby Locke and Gary Player, Spanish magician Ballesteros twice, New Zealand’s Bob Charles, England’s Tony Jacklin and Australian great Peter Thomson on the honors board at the Lancashire links.
Even the largely disappointing British summer weather held off for large parts of the tournament.
Though the 141st Open had a sad ending for Scott, the heartfelt applause for the Australian and celebratory atmosphere for Els on the final green added another chapter to Lytham’s rich history.
Editing by Ed Osmond