So much attention is being focused on Adam Scott’s four closing bogeys in yesterday’s British Open that not enough credit is being given to Ernie Els for one of the greatest closing nine holes in a major championship in a generation. Els’ four-under-par 32 was achieved in conditions that, while not absolutely brutal, were still notably difficult. And on two other of the closing holes, his birdie putts missed by no more than a centimeter or so, meaning that in those difficult conditions he almost shot a 30.
While it is easy to say that comparisons of one man’s closing nine to another, in such circumstances, don’t fully tell the tale of the conditions, because of course one man might be “choking,” it IS a good measure to compare one player with ALL of those who played in the final seven or eight groups, because if one and only one stands out, then it is a good indication of how much better he was than the ordinary conditions would warrant.
In that light, consider that Els’ 32 compares with Scott’s 39, Brandt Snedeker’s 36, Tiger Woods’ 36, Graeme McDowell’s 39, Luke Donald’s 35 (finishing lots earlier), Thomas Aiken’s and Zach Johnson’s 38s, Thorbjorn Olsen’s 37, Mark Calcavecchia’s 36, Matt Kuchar’s 38, Bill Haas’ 37, Bubba Watson’s 39 and Louis Oosthuizen’s 40.
Els’ charge was magnificent.
Taking a broader view, this win puts Els’ career back into almost perfect alignment with that of his near-contemporary Phil Mickelson (the latter being just nine months younger). In terms of major tourneys, their records are: Els and Mickelson wins: 4 each. Seconds: Mickelson 7, Els 6. Thirds: Mickelson 7, Els 4. Total top fives: Mickelson 22, Els 21. Total top tens: Mickelson 33, Els 31.
In total professional titles (not counting minor tours): Els 40 (19 US, 21 other Euro not already counted in US total), plus one in Japan and 16 in the mid-level Sunshine Tour; Mickelson 42 (40 US, plus two not already counted in US total). Mickelson also won a US Amateur title.
In my book, this puts them both among the top 15 or 16 golfers of all time. (Not in exact order, still ahead of both of them: Nicklaus, Woods, Jones, Hogan, Hagen, Sarazen, Player, Palmer, Watson, Snead, Nelson, Trevino, Faldo, probably Ballesteros. Perhaps tied with them: Billy Casper.) Rather heady company!
(Just behind them: Ray Floyd, Cary Middlecoff, Vijay Singh, Jimmy Demaret…. and one tiny step behind those, Hale Irwin, who would move higher if Senior Tour record were counted, which I don’t.)
Anyway, all hail to Ernie Els. Very impressive indeed.