LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- Adam Scott cried the day Greg Norman blew the Masters. It was 1996 and Scott was a teenager in Australia who idolized Norman.
Now, in another major tournament on another continent, Scott shared the same fate as his hero. And a sympathetic Ernie Els took advantage.
So the question of this 141st British Open, which came to an almost surrealistic ending Sunday on the Lancashire coast, was did Els win it -- he was there holding the historic claret jug on which his name was etched second time -- or did Scott lose it? Blow it would be the crueler definition.
"You've got to play some good shots to win those golf tournaments,'' Scott said without tears, "and I wasn't able to do that the last few holes. Sure, I'm very disappointed.''
Scott led by six shots with nine holes remaining at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, where the wind finally showed its teeth. He was up by four shots with four holes remaining. But at the end, after Scott made bogey at 15, 16, 17 and 18 and Els made his fourth birdie of the back nine at 18, there was the man they call the Big Easy with a one-shot victory.
The 42-year-old Els shot a 2-under-par 68 for a total of 273, and Scott, who said he was calm and was so much in control, skidded to a 75 for 274. He missed a 7-foot putt for par on the 18th that would have gotten him into a playoff. He looked as if he might lose control of his emotions right then, but he held himself in check.
Brandt Snedeker, a 31-year-old from Nashville who led after the second round, and Tiger Woods, who took a triple-bogey seven on the sixth hole when he couldn't escape one of Lytham's 206 bunkers, tied for third at 277, Snedeker closing with a 74, Tiger a 73.
Els' putting had been his bane recently. He was striking the ball well, but not getting the ball in the hole.
"I looked like an absolute fool,'' Els said after reworking his putting stroke. "People were laughing at me, making jokes about me and really hitting me low, saying I'm done and I should hang it up.''
Such a cruel game, golf. Norman led Nick Faldo by six that fateful Masters. Scott led Els by six this fateful Open.
"I was trying not to take any risks and keep hitting good shots,'' said Scott, who turned 32 a week ago. "Make pars, but that didn't quite work.''
Els, after his fourth major victory -- he won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997, the British at Muirfield in 2002 -- seemed as concerned with the emotions of Scott, a friend, as he did with his own success.
"He felt for me,'' said Scott, who admitted the full measure of his failure wouldn't hit for awhile. "He told me not to beat myself up.''
Els said he beat himself up after close losses, mainly the 2004 Masters to Phil Mickelson. As he did in 2004, Els was on the putting green preparing for a playoff that never came.
Els finished two groups ahead of Scott-McDowell, and went to the practice green, out of sight of the 18th, as Scott played the last hole.
"I didn't want to watch on TV,'' Els said. "I said, no, I'll go to the putting green like I've done so many times. And I thought I'd be disappointed again because I have so many times waiting for a playoff.''
Particularly that '04 Masters when Mickelson birdied 18 to win.
"Amazing,'' Els said of this win. "I'm still numb. It probably will take a few days because I haven't been in this position for 10 years. It's just crazy, crazy, crazy getting here.''
Crazy for Els, agonizing for Scott.