By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
EAST LOTHIAN, Scotland -- Ernie Els reluctantly handed the Claret Jug back to Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the R&A, on Monday prior to the defending champion's press conference in advance of the Open Championship.
The famous trophy had been "cleaned and buffed" and it was "very, very shiny," Els said, when he made the exchange outside the clubhouse at Muirfield. Of course, not as much buffing was required as when he won the Claret Jug for the first time in 2002 since "we're getting a little older," Els said with a grin.
The "juice" drunk out of the chalice over the last 12 months may have been a little different than it was after that first victory at Muirfield, too. And while Els said the last year was "maybe a little bit easier on the lid" that has to be slid back and forth with each refill, the travels over the last 12 months were similar.
"In my case it went all around the world, just about in every part of the world, except maybe South America," the affable South African said. "But everywhere else it went with me. And taken some great photographs with it with fans and friends and family."
Els had been inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame two months before he came from behind to beat Adam Scott at Royal Lytham & St. Annes last year. He won two U.S. Opens in his first three years on the PGA TOUR but then had to wait 10 years between the two British Open titles, the latter coming when he was 43.
"The one at Lytham felt so special. ... Walking down from the 18th tee right through to the putt that went in, my hair was just standing up," Els said. "It was the most amazing feeling I've ever had."