LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — Thirteen seconds elapsed from the moment Adam Scott anchored the broomstick-length putter to his sternum and watched the 7-foot par putt slide by on the left side of the cup at 18, causing his knees to buckle. The rest of his golfing life may pass before he puts himself back in that position again.
The major championship trophy that Scott seemed destined at long last to hold was firmly in Ernie Els' grasp instead. The Aussie's eyes were still dry, but glassy. A few hundred yards away, a crowd that packed the last grandstand at Royal Lytham expecting to celebrate a once-precocious talent finally coming into his own at age 32, filed out in almost-funereal silence.
They, too, seemed stunned by one of the biggest collapses in British Open history.
"Look, it may not have sunk in yet, so I don't know," is how Scott began describing his emotions. "Hopefully I can let it go really quick and get on with what I plan to do next week and get ready for my next tournament. We'll see. I don't know. I've never really been in this position, so I'll have to wait and see how I feel when I wake up tomorrow."
Scott paused and absent-mindedly drummed his fingertips on the tabletop in front of him. He stared somewhere off in the distance.
"It's tough. You don't want to sit here and have to ... I can't justify anything that I've done out there. I didn't finish the tournament well today. But next time, I'm sure there will be a next time," Scott looked out hopefully toward a roomful of reporters, "and I can do a better job of it."
There is no kind way to say it, but Scott could hardly have done a worse job.
He bogeyed the last four holes in succession, compounding each mistake with another unrelated one — a blown sand save at 15, a missed 3-footer at 16, a wayward approach at 17, and finally, an errant drive at the last — until it resembled a chain-reaction car crash. That sequence left his playing partner, Graeme McDowell, trying several times to avert his gaze.
"I was watching out of the corner of my eye," McDowell said. "I wouldn't say I had given up and was intent on what Adam was doing ... but it's hard to watch. It's hard to watch a guy do that.
Yet, like a reluctant witness, McDowell couldn't turn away.
"The putt on 16 was huge for him to miss that," the Northern Irishman resumed a minute later. "He hit a great drive down the middle of 17, and half of England right of that pin, and he missed it left. 18 is a tough tee shot, let's be honest. So he's going to be extremely heartbroken and disappointed, but he's a great, great, great player, and that's what I tried to convey to him on the last green.
"Like I say, it felt like a futile exercise trying to say anything to him," McDowell finished. "I'm sure he's going to be unbelievably disappointed."
The short putt at the 16th might have been the most unsettling to those of us watching. But Scott chose the 6-iron from 178 yards out on the 17th fairway as the one he most wanted back. It landed short of the green in waist-high grass, and he failed to convert that up-and-down.
"I felt surprisingly calm and I felt like I had everything under control. When I was over the ball, I felt like I was going to hit a good shot, and that was the way I played all week," Scott recalled.
He paused again, replaying the sequence in his mind, and smiled ruefully.
"But I didn't make a good swing on that one," Scott said quietly.
Every time an Australian athlete fails to slam the door in a big game, the inevitable comparison is to Greg Norman, whose collapse in 1996 Masters still makes even the most-hardened professionals squirm. Norman, perhaps not surprisingly, was Scott's boyhood hero.
"I thought he was a great role model, how he handled himself in victory and defeat," Scott said. "He set a good example for us."
The way Scott carried himself throughout the toughest afternoon of his life was proof of that. When Geoff Ogilvy, Scott's best pal on the pro golfing circuit, won the 2006 U.S. Open after a similarly surprising collapse by Phil Mickelson, Scott was at the airport about to board a plane. He turned around and high-tailed it back to Winged Foot in time to join the party.Comment on this story
On Sunday, it was Ogilvy who tried in some small way to return the favor.
"Happy for Ernie," he tweeted, "but I feel very sick right now."
He wasn't the only one.