Here’s what should have happened at the 72nd tee of the Open Championship. Steve Williams menacingly yanks that 3-wood out of Adam Scott’s grasp, gives it the Cheech Marin “Tin Cup” snap, dares him to hit anything but iron and stomps with pit-bull passion toward another place in golf history.
You know that’s what New Zealand’s square-jawed looper wanted to do. Instead, Scott will take his place in majors lore for the wrong reason.
Blowing a four-shot lead by bogeying the final four holes isn’t the greatest meltdown in majors history, but it’s up there. Arnold Palmer can relate. He mangled a seven-shot lead with nine holes left in the 1966 U.S. Open and lost a playoff to Billy Casper. Think that didn’t have a lasting impact? Palmer never again was in majors contention.
Greg Norman’s biorhythms shorted from a power surge in the 1996 Masters. Ahead by six entering the final round, he watched Nick Faldo beat him by five shots in an 11-stroke free fall. That was painful.
As was the No. 1 flop of all-time, Jean Van de Velde’s titanic sinking on the 72nd hole of the 1999 Open Championship. Who among us who endured his fateful hole didn’t want to reach through the TV screen and shake him like a bottle of Pepto? He led by three on the tee, buckled for 45 minutes and lost a playoff.
But that is what’s so beautiful and agonizing about this stick-and-ball game. Undone by nerves and pressure, what is so easy early in a round can become impossible later. That’s when muscle memory becomes as flexible as titanium.
Ernie Els winning his fourth major after Scott’s collapse is a feel-good story. But Els, seemingly out of it, finished an hour earlier with only pride on the line. Playing those last four holes with a major at stake is a different ballgame.
Thriving under white-knuckle conditions is key in any sport. It’s also hard to consistently pull off. Sometimes, that calls for a hint of strong-armed encouragement.