In the end, it was Adam Scott’s much talked about long putter that set the stage for one of the bigger Majors collapses in recent history. When challengers like Tiger Woods, Brandt Snedeker and Graeme McDowell fell back on the front nine, Scott built a commanding lead. Only Ernie Els stood still within striking distance. Scott was hitting the ball well, but if he had made any putts during the middle of the round, where he made seven straight pars but left several putts short, it might have been different.
Then, he got to the 15th after the birdie, and looked to have it in hand, especially after a good drive. Four stroke lead, four holes to play. Scott, though, missed two short putts for par on the next two holes.
“If I make the putt on 15 or 16,” said Scott, “it’s a very different position and a lot more comfortable. It’s a hard hole, 15, but a poor putt there. And then I let one slip at 16. We got to the 16th tee and we’d said (himself and Williams) that it’s six good swings from there to finish out a round. And that’s what I was trying to do.”
That didn’t happen. Off the green on 17, in the fairway bunker on 18, and another close miss on the putt that would have sent it to a playoff left Scott completely out of the championship four holes later.
Where does it rank in collapses? I guess you could define them any number of ways, but I’ll do it by trying to estimate the likelihood of winning at its peak, as well as the type of collapse. I settled on four because I’m not sure there is a strong candidate for #5. Yeah, Rory McIlroy at the Majors was a major disaster on Sunday at Augusta two years ago, but it occurred so early on Sunday (he was out of contention by the turn) that I’m not sure his chances of winning were ever near-certain. [Update: my memory is faulty, his collapse happened at #10, when he finally lost the lead and went +6 from holes 10-12]. Ed Snead had a three stroke lead at the 1979 Masters with three to play, and lost in a playoff, but only had one bogey in that stretch. Plenty of guys have come to the final hole needing a par to win and haven’t gotten it–there chances of winning at that point were above average but not decidedly so.
So, here’s the Top Four:
4. Greg Norman at the 1996 Masters. Norman entered the day with a six stroke lead over Nick Faldo, where he had basically held steady since a blistering 63 on Thursday. That lead immediately fell to 5 on the first hole, though Norman steadied and still had a 4 stroke lead after 7. As he finished the front nine and headed toward Amen corner, things changed dramatically. Faldo birdied the 8th, then Norman bogeyed three in a row, before double-bogeying the difficult 12th. Faldo never relinquished the lead after that. While it ranks at the top on merit, Norman’s lead after eight holes was never as large as Scott’s on the back nine yesterday.
3. Adam Scott at the 2012 British Open. Ken Pomeroy declared Scott the winner after his birdie on fourteen to take a four shot lead. Mr. Pomeroy must not have had another British Open result included in his calculations, because it wasn’t 100%. We can however, say that the chances of not winning were pretty minuscule at that point and would require lots of things to happen. All week, that had been a tougher stretch where golfers had to get their birdies earlier, but still, Four bogeys in four holes was unlikely.
2. Arnold Palmer at the 1966 US Open. Palmer had a three stroke lead on the man he was paired with in the final group, Billy Casper, entering the day. He stretched it to a whopping 7 stroke lead at the turn with a front side 32. Not only was he heading for the title, he needed to just shoot par on the back to break the U.S. Open scoring record. He bogeyed 10 and 13, but still had a 5 stroke lead with four holes remaining, one larger than Scott’s (though his challenger had two more holes remaining than Els did). The next two holes saw bogey-birdie exchanges as the lead slipped to 1 heading to the 17th. Palmer bogeyed that hole, and it was all tied. In the playoff the next day, Palmer again built a two stroke lead at the turn, but lost it with bogeys at 14 and 15, and a double at 16.
1. Jean Van De Velde at the 1999 British Open. There was discussion of whether Scott surpassed Van De Velde. Nonsense. There is a vast difference between having the possibility of avoiding a couple of bogeys, and having a 3-stroke lead with just one final hole to play. Triple bogeys are exceedingly rare for professional golfers. They are even moreso when they know they need to avoid them and can play the hole strategically without taking high risk shots.
Of course, Van De Velde played the last hole at Carnoustie as stupidly as possible. He actually got lucky on his first shot, and still didn’t change his strategy. He almost played a ball out of the water after hitting it in the berm. No one had as big a chance to win a Major, and lost it, as the Frenchman at Carnoustie.
[photo via US Presswire]