By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP National Writer
LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England (AP) - If this had been a normal British Open, Ernie Els would've been hanging out on the putting green hoping his work was done. Any other time, he wouldn't have welcomed a playoff to secure the title.
The Big Easy was willing to make an exception this time.
There was nothing normal about a wind-swept Sunday at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
"Crazy, crazy, crazy," Els kept saying.
Crazy, indeed. And, for the guy who let it slip away, a gut-wrenching blow.
Adam Scott had the claret jug in his grasp with four holes to play. A player of enormous potential was poised to fulfill his promise at age 32, to collect the first major championship of his career after building a comfortable lead over three days of brilliant golf.
Then, a bogey. And another. And another. And finally, at the 18th hole, with a 7-foot putt to at least force a playoff, he missed again. Scott's knees buckled. Golf's oldest championship had been snatched away, handed to Els with one of the great collapses in golfing history.
"You're not really hoping the guy is going to make a mistake, but you're hoping you don't have to go to a playoff," said Els, who was playing two groups ahead of Scott. "This one was different because I feel for Adam. I really didn't mind going to a playoff. He probably didn't feel that. But I was, at best, hoping for a playoff on the putting green."
When it was done, Scott had to make a painful walk back to the 18th green to collect the prize that goes to the runner-up. On the table was the silver chalice that should've been his.
He gave it to Els on a silver platter.
The winner hardly sounded like one. In fact, Els was downright apologetic about the way it happened.
"Sorry," he said, looking toward a glassy eyed Scott. "You're a great player, a great friend of mine. I feel very fortunate. You're going to win many of these."
Scott certainly has plenty of years to capture a major. He's just coming into what should be the prime of his career. But no one really knows how he'll bounce back from such a bitter disappointment.
He has joined the infamous list of epic meltdowns, his name now etched alongside the likes of Jean Van de Velde and Ed Sneed and, yes, Greg Norman, his Aussie countryman and childhood hero.
"I played so beautifully all week," Scott said. "I shouldn't let this get me down."
But how could he not?
Scott can only hope he doesn't turn out to be another Van de Velde or Sneed, players who had their one shot at glory and never came close again.
Els tried to be encouraging.
"I told him, `I've been there many times and you've just got to bounce back quickly. Don't let this thing linger,'" said Els, who added a second Open title to a pair of U.S. Open crowns. "I feel for him. But thankfully he's young enough. He's 32 years old. He's got the next 10 years that he can win more than I've won. I've won four now. I think he can win more than that."
Assuming he can get over this.
Scott, who went into the final round with a four-stroke lead after three straight rounds in the 60s, got off to a wobbly start with two bogeys on the first three holes. But the breeze off the Irish Sea _ nonexistent through the first three rounds _ blew everyone else away. Everyone but Els, that is, a guy who hadn't won in more than two years, a guy whose best golf seemed behind him.
Tiger Woods made a triple-bogey at the sixth, forced to take one swing while sitting on the grass next to a bunker. In one wayward hole, he lost any chance of rallying to win a 15th major title and end a more than four-year drought since his last big win.
Graeme McDowell duck-hooked his ball into the trees along the 11th fairway, the sort of shot that a weekend duffer might hit, not the 2010 U.S. Open champion. Thirty-six-hole leader Brandt Snedeker also lost a ball, gobbled up by the thick rough.
Els was the only one who mounted a charge, closing with a 2-under 68. But, let's face it, that shouldn't have been enough.
This wasn't so much a matter of one player winning as it was the other player losing.