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Els uses a belly putter, a club that even he has said the governing bodies (your R&A, your USGA) should outlaw. To use it, you bend over and stick the end of the club in your naval. You overwhelm the tendency to yip with your own body weight. Els's putting, by the extreme standards of world-class golfers, has been horrible for years, even with the belly, and the Lytham greens, compared with the extreme standards of the PGA Tour, were slow and flat. In other words, we didn't learn that much about the state of Ernie's putting last week. (Els ranked 71st on the greens, worst ever for a major winner.) What we did learn is that he can still flat-out flush the ball. The Open is always—always—won by a player who hits it flush. You can chip and putt your way to a green jacket but not to the title Champion Golfer of the Year.
Scott uses the belly's cousin, a long-shafted putter. He holds the grip's end to his sternum with his left hand as he guides the putter back and through with his right. Nobody dreams about winning majors with a broomstick, and nobody has done it yet. But for three days and most of a fourth, it looked as if it would happen.
During the first three still days—calm stretches visit Open golf as often as the big blows for which the event is famous—Scott putted like Tiger, circa 2000. (Tiger himself looked terrific last week, albeit with a deeply conservative, Nicklausian game plan. He was undone by a Sunday triple bogey on the 6th, where he had to play one trap shot sprawled out on a cliff above a greenside bunker that had swallowed his ball, his left foot supporting his right knee.) For 54 holes, nearly all of Scott's putts were right at the hole, and when they didn't drop, he pretty much only had to tap in his Titleist. His rounds of 64, 67 and 68 on the par-70 inland linksland gave him a four-shot 54-hole lead over Brandt Snedeker and Graeme McDowell, his final-round playing partner.
On Sunday, when Scott was trying to win the first major of his respectable career, the wind arrived. Not a gale, but wind. "His putting was tentative from the 1st green," said Ken Comboy, McDowell's caddie. Scott missed a four-foot par putt on the odd (but interesting) par-3 1st, and the tone was set. "When he looks back on this round, the thing he'll blame is his putting," said Comboy. "He simply couldn't get his putts to the hole."
The long-shafted putter requires a long, flowing stroke, and you could argue that such a stroke becomes harder in the wind and under Sunday pressure. Scott will tell you—politely, of course—that's incorrect. "There's no validity to that kind of argument," he said evenly. "It's hard putting in windy conditions."
In defeat, Scott's voice was nearly a monotone. In victory it's about the same. Inflection is not his thing. Sometimes you'll see him leaving a golf course in Chuck Taylors and blue jeans, sidekick Tim Clark beside him. They're always plotting something crazy, like a trip to Cheesecake Factory.
Scott has said, although in words less direct than this, that he hired Steve Williams, a truly aggressive personality, looking for an alter ego. He got what he wanted. At the 17th on Saturday, Scott and Williams looked at a garden-variety bunker shot. Scott assured Williams he could handle it, unassisted. When Scott stiffed the shot but did not hole it, Williams said, "I thought you had that one." His tone was playful, but the message was out of the Tiger playbook: Whatever your lead is, expand it. That takes huge talent, which Scott has, and a certain fierceness, which he does not. Williams's job is to give it to him.
Old Stevie is a big presence in the game. Last August, when Scott won the World Golf Championship event in Akron, he was happy to let Williams, victorious for the first time since his acrimonious breakup with Woods, grab the spotlight. Williams did, telling David Feherty of CBS, "I'm a very confident front-runner." It was unseemly.
Lytham reminded us, painfully, that it is the player who needs to be the confident front-runner. At the conclusion of play Williams, by far the most successful caddie ever—he has "won" 13 majors—made a beeline to the car park, to a courtesy Mercedes, and declined a reporter's invitation to talk. He seemed distraught and out of sorts. His boss did not. Not at all. Scott was no different than he ever is, really. That's his character.
It's interesting but awful to be at a tournament where the leader kicks it away. At Lytham, as Nicklaus and Tom Watson and Phil Mickelson and others have done, Els showed that grace remains golf's greatest virtue. In victory he didn't talk about the spectacular four-under 32 he shot on the final nine holes. He said again and again how badly he felt for Scott, and how sure he was that Scott would have his moments, plural, in the sun. In the privacy of the scorer's trailer he told Scott, "I'm sorry how things turned out. Don't let this thing linger." Nobody was screaming, "Par-TAY!" It was a wistful win.