Like a lot of die hard Australian golf fans, I stayed up to the wee hours on Monday morning to watch the last round of The Open. I’ve been doing it for years and it’s part of my yearly schedule.

There’s something about links golf that I find intriguing – the funny bounces, the wind and the unpredictability almost always ensures a world class player wins the event. It happens, but rarely does a complete outsider win the event like at the PGA and US Open. The Masters is such an exclusive field that only the very best (except for some amateurs) get a start. So for all the quirkiness, The Open might just be the best test of finding the “best” player.

As an Aussie, I was hoping to see Adam Scott take out the event. He played some great golf for the first 3 rounds and held a handy lead. Everything was going to plan until the very end when Ernie Els bucked the trend and Scott bogeyed the last four.

Social media and the general media have been pretty critical of Adam Scott. The choker tag has been flying around and then there has been the comparison to Greg Norman’s mishap at the 1996 US Masters.

I’ve battled to write this post. The easiest thing would be to write how he stuffed up, choked his bum off and let down himself and his country. At 4am on Monday morning that was the temptation. But I’ve sat on it for a while because I’m not convinced he choked. Is it possible he just made four bogeys at the worst possible time? Was it more bad luck rather than choking?

Let’s look at the round in more detail.

[headline_tahoma_small_left color=”#000000″]Early Holes[/headline_tahoma_small_left]

First off, he started badly. He bogeyed the first where he would normally make par, probably 90 times out of 100. He corrected things with a fantastic birdie on the second – his approach there might have been the best of the day. He then bogeyed the third and was looking shaky. He made a great save at 5 (so did McDowell), bogeyed the 6th (so did most others) and then let a golden chance slip for birdie at 7 (so did McDowell).

His big advantage early on was everyone else was going backwards. Tiger made a triple bogey, Snedeker went double double and nobody looked like they were handling the conditions that well (some of the earlier players had shot some impressive scores so it was possible). If Adam could have played a little better at the start he may have had a 6 or 7 shot lead by the end. Those early holes, as it turned out, had just as much influence as the ones at the finish.

From here Adam played some pretty good golf – solid would sum it up perfectly. When he birdied 14 he was almost home but this is where things got interesting.

[headline_tahoma_small_left color=”#000000″]15th Hole[/headline_tahoma_small_left]

The bogey on 15 was not a disaster. He hit a perfect drive and had around 200 yards to get home. For Scott this called for a 4 iron and he missed the green to the left. The bunker shot was not easy, Tiger had a similar shot moments earlier and got the same result. A bogey 5. Let’s keep in mind that it was one really tough hole, certainly no snack.

[headline_tahoma_small_left color=”#000000″]16th Hole[/headline_tahoma_small_left]

Adam didn’t do much wrong on 16. He found the fairway and hit his approach at the flag. Unfortunately the ball landed a tad too far, leaving him a 30 footer for birdie. Golf is not an exact science, there’s every chance that on another day that same swing would leave the ball a little closer. Still, there wasn’t too much damage done. His first putt went left, leaving a tricky putt for par. I say tricky because it wasn’t a gimme. It was more than 2 feet and probably closer to four. These putts are never easy at the best of times, but with a major title on the line they get tougher. The fact is the pros do miss smallish putts from time to time. Wind, fast and hard greens only adds to the difficulty. They do miss (don’t we all?). It didn’t appear to be a bad putt either. He hit a fair chunk of the hole and the ball spun out. It didn’t look yippy or tentative – from where I was sitting he put a good stroke on it.

Compounding Adam’s miss on 16 was Els sinking his birdie on the last. All of a sudden his lead was cut from 3 to 1. This was significant as the last two holes are tough. Very tough. All week Nick Faldo (and probably everyone else) was saying these holes were going to be a thorough test for the potential champion. He proved to be right.

[headline_tahoma_small_left color=”#000000″]17th Hole[/headline_tahoma_small_left]

Despite the bogeys, Scott hit another brilliant drive on 17. This was not a swing of someone choking – it was pure as it rifled down the middle of the fairway. It was a good a drive as he had hit all week. Obviously the second shot was not great and I think he said that was the worst for the week. The ball took a big bounce and ended in some gnarly rough – from here he was always making 5. Should he have hit the ball right of the flag? Yes, but I’m sure that is what he was trying to do. When you hit a bad shot it doesn’t go where you want it to. To me it was simply a bad swing at the wrong time. And quite possibly his approach there wasn’t too far from being perfect. He undoubtedly pulled it, but a fraction less and he was a hero. It’s a fine line.

Scores level.

[headline_tahoma_small_left color=”#000000″]18th Hole[/headline_tahoma_small_left]

The 18th was no snack either. While not as long, the bunkers are penal. By this stage things were unraveling for him. I personally think he should have taken an iron from the tee. It’s easy for me to say, as this still was no guarantee to find the fairway (he missed the fairway in the 1st round taking iron), but it probably would have increased his chances. On the other hand, if he did make a better swing, his 3 wood would have set up a better chance for birdie. And this is the beauty of the game. It challenges you mentally. You’ve got to make some decisions. Do I go for it or do I lay up? Sometimes there’s no right answer. If his 3 wood did find the fairway and he then proceeded to make a birdie we all would have marveled at his courage and fortitude. The guy makes a bogey and now he is a choker – it’s a tad unfair.

Has it happened he pulled his tee shot (did you get the feeling he was going to do this?) into one of those horrible pot bunkers. He pitched it out and then hit a great shot from 150 yards. Again, was his pure 272nd shot one of a choker? It was impressive. For all money I had him missing the green and taking double. But he didn’t. He got it together and played a great shot. As we know the putt missed. It wasn’t a bad attempt – it had a chance to go in. But it didn’t.

And that’s golf my friends. It’s hardly a fair game and it can drive any sane person mad. I’ve thought a lot about those last few holes and I’m not sure he could’ve done much differently. Sure, he hit some poor shots but he played some beauties down the stretch. Also, Scott had the most experienced caddy on his bag. Steve Williams has done it all and I’m sure between them there wasn’t a lot of choking going on. I bet they did everything they could possibly do.

Els played a great game of golf. He actually wasn’t too far from going lower. He took three from the edge on 9, repeated that on 11, missed a very gettable birdie on 16 (after hitting a fantastic chip shot) and played 17 perfectly. His score of 68 beat his nearest challenger by four strokes – at this level that is a significant achievement. So just maybe The Open Championship once again found the best player. Adam Scott was unlucky but he certainly isn’t a choker.

What are your thoughts?