LYTHAM ST. ANNE'S, England – Ernie Els revealed he hopes to pour Nelson Mandela a drink from the Claret Jug after completing a dramatic comeback victory in the Open Championship.
Els clinched the fourth major title of his career and his first in 10 years, after capitalizing on a disastrous choke by Adam Scott, who threw away the tournament with bogeys on each of the final four holes to be overhauled by one stroke.
The big South African admitted he had thought of Mandela before and during his round, and Els paid tribute to the iconic statesman during his acceptance speech at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, site of the 141st British Open.
"I would love to offer him a drink from [the Jug]. I have been doing some little sound bites for the Olympics and a lot of the theme this year has got President Mandela in it," Els said. "So he is very much in my thoughts.
"I was watching South Africa [play cricket against England on television] this morning and the thought came through me in a split second. I told myself that if I won, I had better thank President Mandela because I grew up in the era of apartheid, and then changing into the democratic era.
"Right after the change I was the first one to win a major, so there is a lot of significance there in my life, and we just intertwined together in a crazy way."
Mandela would regularly telephone Els to congratulate him after significant victories, and the pair met at official functions in South Africa, becoming firm friends.
Mandela, now 94 and with some recurring health issues, once said "character, perseverance, patience and belief" were what got him through his 27-year incarceration in Robben Island for speaking out against the racist government policies of the time.
Those four personality assets could be used to describe Els' poise on Day 4 of an Open that threatened to crawl over the finish line but eventually wound up with fingernails bitten and nerves jangled.
When Scott calmly rolled in a birdie on No. 14, the Australian sat four strokes clear and had, like he had for most of the day, the trophy comfortably within his grasp. But the wobble started right after as his accuracy from the tee and putting touch deserted him simultaneously.
A clumsy three-putt on 16 and a wayward approach on 17 saw the gap narrow, and by the time Els birdied the last hole to finish with a 7-under 283, Scott had lost his inner composure entirely and dumped his tee shot on 18 into one of Lytham's horribly steep bunkers.
Suddenly, it was Els in the box seat as he took a few putts in anticipation of a playoff and received updates on his cell. As it was, he didn't need to lift another finger. Scott's recovery on the final hole was laudable and gave him a chance to keep things square after 72 holes, but he pushed another putt just wide and Els' name would be etched on the trophy.
"It feels amazing," Els said. "I am still numb. It hasn't set in. I haven't been in this position for 10 years. It is just a crazy game. Crazy, crazy game.
"I'm worn down. I feel for Adam Scott, he is a great friend of mine, and we both wanted to win very badly. I really feel for him, but it is the nature of the beast. It was my time for some reason."
For Scott, recovering from this setback could be long and painful. He was diplomatic and dignified in defeat and won admirers with his classy words and first 68 holes of play.
"I'm pretty disappointed," he said. "I managed to hit a poor shot on each of the last four holes. It was a very sloppy finish and disappointing after having played so well before it."
Els meanwhile, could savor all the spoils of victory. Always a laid back character, at 42, he now has more clarity of thought than ever before and could sense even early in the week that he was ready to burst into rich form.
It might have been a title that was handed to him, rather than gleefully grasped, but that doesn't make it any less sweet for the Big Easy, on a course that on a windy last day was anything but.
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