LYTHAM ST ANNES (Reuters) - British Open champion Ernie Els described his crazy feelings after taking advantage of a stunning late collapse by Australian Adam Scott to win his fourth major title on Sunday.
Els birdied the last hole to finish on seven under par and as the South African munched a sandwich on the practice green expecting a playoff at best, Scott suffered his fourth successive bogey on the 18th to hand the Claret Jug to the 42-year-old.
“It is amazing,” Els told reporters. “I‘m still numb. It still hasn’t sunk in. It will probably take quite a few days because I haven’t been in this position for 10 years so it’s just crazy, crazy, crazy getting here.”
Els, who will climb from 40th to 15th in the world rankings, was referring to his last Open victory in 2002 at Muirfield when he beat Australians Stuart Appleby and Steve Elkington and Frenchman Thomas Levet in a four-hole playoff.
“I remember I was very relieved at Muirfield because I almost did what Scottie did,” he said. “I was lucky enough to make birdie on 17 and make par on 18 to get in the playoff. I had the lead most of the time also there.”
Els, the second 42-year-old to win the Open following Darren Clarke’s victory at Sandwich 12 months ago, said he felt confident going into the final round despite trailing leader Scott by six shots.
“I felt good after yesterday,” he said. “I didn’t play myself out of it. But it’s hard to explain. For some reason I felt something good was going to come out of this.”
Els won the 1994 and 1997 U.S. Opens early in his career and topped the world rankings three times in 1997 and 1998 for a total of nine weeks.
But the player known as the ‘Big Easy’ because of his imposing physical stature and smooth swing had struggled to compete recently, with 2011 a particularly tough time.
“Last year I thought I had no chance,” he said. “Last year was really a pretty big hole. But since the start of the year I started seeing some better signs. My game is back to where I feel I can compete.”
Els, whose rounds of 67, 70, 68 and 68 earned him a first prize of 900,000 pounds ($1.41 million), had plenty of sympathy for close friend Scott.
“I really feel for my buddy Scottie, I really do,” he 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.”
Els, who made four birdies and two bogeys in his final round, was grateful to the Lytham crowds for their support and thanked them in his victory speech.
”They were behind me the whole week,“ he said. ”I think they were behind me just as a past champion, maybe, just encouraging me and maybe just happy to see me around.
”As I kind of progressed over the back nine especially, they got louder and louder and the crowd grew.
“There was a lot of people with Tiger Woods behind us but the last four holes we had a magnificent crowd and they were really rooting for me and really inspired me.”
Editing by Tony Jimenez