Tiger who?  Despite the fact that the world’s most famous golfer was out of the running down the stretch, all eyes were on the 18th hole of the Open Championship when Adam Scott arrived at the tee.

Adam Scott, looking for his first major victory, could taste it after playing 68 holes of solid golf.  The Australian started the final round of play with a four-shot lead and continued to roll Sunday.  But from 6 shots back came Ernie Els who surged his way up the leaderboard, birdying four holes on the back nine.  Back in the clubhouse with a one-stroke lead and awaiting his fate, was Els.  Adversely,  Scott had bogeyed the 15, 16 and 17, yet still had a chance to force a playoff on the 18th if he could just make par. 

It came down to a seven-foot putt that went left.  No par.  No playoff.  No win for a watery-eyed Adam Scott.  Instead, four consecutive bogeys on the final holes of the Open Championship.

Brutal.

Four-shot lead with four holes to play.  It was a collapse of Greg Norman-esque proportion, Scott’s fellow Aussie, often times remembered for all of the wrong reasons.

Scott and Els, two men of different eras and different countries, yet both very likable guys whose play on the back nine gave viewers a taste of the best and worst that the game of golf has to offer. 

Els, the affable elder statesman (at age 42), getting to play comeback kid for his first major title since the winning the Open Championship in 2002, had to put a smile on the face of anyone who has ever played the sport.

On the other hand, if you’ve ever hit the links, your heart was likely breaking right alongside Scott’s as we all know just how quickly the magic can slip away out on the course.  

Els finished at 7-under 273, with a one-stroke lead over Scott.  Ouch.

If there is anything Scott can take away from this debacle, it’s this:

@McIlroyRory:  Big congrats to Ernie!! 4 time major champion! Know how Adam feels right now, not a great place, but he will be back! Too good not to be!

Remember young Rory McIlroy’s EPIC collapse at the Masters in 2011?  Our Irish homie shot the worst round by a leader going into day four in Masters history!  Talk about a downer, right?

Well, McIlroy came back two months later and won the U.S. Open.  A bad loss enhances motivation.  That’s a great set-up for a talented player like Scott who will surely get another shot, just as McIlroy did. 

Going into the Open Championship, World No. 1 Luke Donald and of course, Tiger Woods, were the two names on everyone’s tongue.

While Woods absolutely plays a role in getting eyeballs to the TV initially, great play and dramatics will keep people watching, whether Tiger is a threat to win or not. 

Luckily for the sport and golf fans alike, the final round of the Open Championship gave us the perfect combination of joy and heartbreak to keep us glued to the TV.

Dear Tiger,

Please, please win tomorrow.  Pretty please?

After the incident which caused you physical pain and in the process, revealed your less-than-admirable “extracurricular activities,”  I was completely grossed out, unsympathetic and never expected to root for you again. 

But after nearly two and a half years, I have changed my tune as you hold a 1-shot lead going into the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational and here I am, begging you to win.  If there’s any stop on the Tour that can get you back on track, this is the place.   You love Bay Hill!  After all, you’ve won there six times.  It seems like this would be a fitting place to finally log a PGA Tour victory for the first time in 30 months. 

You were back on your game Saturday, dare I say, old-school-Tiger style, leading by 4 shots after 13.  Then, you were tested.  You bogey’d the 14th and followed up with a disastrous shot on the 15th which sent your ball trespassing poolside on some home owner’s property.  Yes, 15 was ugly, landing you your first double bogey in 247 holes on the Tour this season, but that’s okay!  You hung in there, stayed calm and still managed to shoot 1-under 71, good for a 1-stroke lead. 

Remember how incredibly clutch you used to be when taking a lead into the final round?  You were as close to unbeatable as it gets, winning 48 of 52 PGA Tour events in which you started Sunday on top.  This week at Bay Hill, you are excelling on the toughest parts of the course, birdying 10 of the 12 par-5’s you’ve played through the first three rounds, outperforming the field by an average of 7 shots in that category. 

Look, I know you’ve come really close to winning recently, yet came up short in the end.  But this isn’t the Australian Open or Abu Dhabi.  It’s Bay Hill, a place where you will get your mojo back.

Sure, Phil Mickelson is a fan favorite and the rise of young Rory McIlroy has been fun to watch (and is somewhat reminiscent of you), but the sport just isn’t the same without you, Tiger Woods, in contention on the back 9.  Golf just isn’t that fun without your eye-of-the-tiger-death-stare scaring the pants off the competition down the stretch, or waging a massive comeback as that makes us all feel stupid for even thinking of counting you out. 

Listen, you don’t have to win ‘em all, but “71” doesn’t sit well with me.  As ludicrous as it sounds, you are better than 71 Tour victories.  Your talent should have easily taken you beyond 14 Majors, but I’ll try not to get ahead of myself.

72 has seemed like an impossible task, but I implore you to please get there tomorrow.  Put on your finest red Nike swag and warm up that arm for your signature fist-pump because I think you, Tiger Woods, are ready to be a winner once again. 

What does a guy have to do to get top billing?  Rory McIlroy just won more than $1 million with a victory at the Honda Classic which catapulted him to the top of the standings where at 22 years old, he is now the No. 1 golfer in the world.  McIlroy has three PGA Tour wins - including the 2011 U.S. Open - on his resume, and he’s dating the world’s 4th-ranked tennis player, Caroline Wozniacki.  Despite living a fairytale-like life at the moment, the young man from Northern Ireland is being overshadowed by another golfer. 

Although McIlroy is No. 1, “Tiger” is on the tip of everyone’s tongue after Woods’ shot a spectacular 62 in the final round of the Honda Classic, leaving him two shots behind McIlroy for a second place finish (Tom Gillis tied Woods as the runner up).  Starting the day nine shots behind McIlroy, Woods dazzled his way up the leader board, at one point trailing McIlroy by only one stroke.  62 is Wood’s best-ever final round score in a PGA Tour event.

Not too shabby. 

Nearly everything went well for Woods who logged two eagles and three birdies in Sunday’s final round while McIlroy struggled mightily at times, looking like he might not earn a first place finish.  Instead of letting the game get away from him, McIlroy made the best of potentially nasty situations on the 15th and 17th with two impressive up-and-downs out of bunkers good for par on both holes. 

Perhaps the biggest “goosebump” moment for McIlroy came on the 13th hole where he was preparing to putt an 8-footer for birdie when he heard the crowd going nuts from the 18th.  Woods had just eagled the hole, putting him within one measly shot of the Irishman.  McIlroy made his birdie putt, reclaiming a two-stroke lead. 

But don’t think he wasn’t shaking in his boots a bit.  After the tournament, McIlroy told reporters, “It was tough today, especially when Tiger made a charge and posted 10 under.”

Ya, no kidding!  That comment is a far cry from those he made during the Honda Classic last year when the young, then up-and-coming McIlroy had this to say about a down and out Woods:

"When Tiger had that aura, I wasn’t playing against him - I was watching on TV.

"I remember getting nervous when I first met him.  I was 15.  There was a presence about him.  There still is to some extent but when you’re on the course you simply block it out.

"But Tiger is not playing as well as he was even a couple of years ago, never mind going back to the late 1990s and early 2000s, when he was at his best.

"I’m not sure we are going to see him dominate again the way he did.

"It’s not that he’s playing badly.  He’s simply playing badly by Tiger’s standards.  He’s playing like an ordinary golfer."

Wowzah!

Listen, young Rory was right, but saying this stuff on the record, as a 21-year-old scrub taking the tour by storm, probably wasn’t such a bright idea.

Either way, Woods managed to set McIlroy straight with his play today, despite losing the tournament.  While a competitor such as Woods is never satisfied with a moral victory like this one, his fantastic final round surely gave   the man who once held the world’s No. 1 ranking for a record 623 weeks that much more confidence, which will eventually propel him to his first PGA Tour win since 2009. 

After the tournament, Tiger tweeted the following:

@TigerWoods:  Congrats to @mcilroyrory on getting to No. 1.  Thanks to PB fans for all the love this week.

At 21 years and 10 months old, McIlroy became the second-youngest player in golf history to be ranked No. 1, right behind you-know-who.  15 years ago, Woods was 21 years and 6 months old when he shot to the top of the rankings in 1997. 

Apparently, love was in the air in Palm Beach Gardens Sunday as McIlroy dished out plenty of compliments to Woods as well.  “I always had putts on the putting green when I was 10 to beat Tiger Woods or to beat Phil Mickelson. But hopefully it would be great to turn that into reality at some point,” McIlroy told reporters. “They are the best two golfers of this generation, and obviously Tiger’s the best by a long way. It’s quite an honor just to be mentioned in the same sentence as those two guys.”

That’s right son.  Respect your elders. 

After details of Woods’ personal life unfolded publicly, I was pretty disgusted and thought I could never root for him again, but as we’ve seen over and over again in this country, time and winning heals most wounds.  Woods has become the unlikeliest of underdogs and I, along with most in the sport of golf, am praying that he will soon provide us with the drama, skill and splendor that was once routine with nearly ever tournament in which he played. 

What could be better for golf than a Woods/McIlroy pairing on a Sunday? 

Okay, maybe Woods/Mickelson.  But you get the point. 

(Photo: Woods and McIlroy during a practice round for the Abu Dhabi Championship in January, 2012. Photograph: Scott Halleran/Getty Images)