LYTHAM ST ANNES, England, July 22 (Reuters) - At the U.S. Open two years ago it was Graeme McDowell who kept calm when everyone around him wilted on a nervy final day but he could not repeat the act in a similarly frantic British Open climax.
McDowell, partnering Adam Scott in the final group of the day as the Australian's heartbreaking collapse handed Ernie Els a fourth major title, moved within three shots of the lead with a birdie at the eighth and had the galleries firmly on his side.
Then came a run of three straight bogeys including probably the worst shot the world number 12 has played in a long time.
"Card wrecker," was the Ryder Cup player's assessment of an ugly duck-hook into the trees on the par-five 11th on his way to a five-over 75 which earned a share of fifth spot with world number one Luke Donald.
"I moved my body left in an attempt not to get the club flailing right and that was just a bad pull, 15-handicapper."
McDowell made no excuses despite experiencing more difficult weather conditions on Sunday.
"You're going from playing flat-pan golf for a few days to playing in a strong crosswind," he said after winding up on two-under 278, five adrift of South African Els.
"There are things you have to change in your game and I didn't do that well today.
"What did I have to do today, shoot level-par? It was a tough day. Yes, Ernie Els shot 32 on the back nine to overcome us and win this but he's also been handed it as well."
McDowell did his best to cling on but more bogeys at 15 and 17 were symptomatic of a bad day at the office.
While he forgot his swing on the Lancashire links, he did not forget his manners.
With Scott struggling on the 18th hole, under the face of a bunker and both balls the same distance from the green, McDowell called over to the Australian to say he would play first, earning large cheers from the huge crowd.
Scott consequently had more time to compose himself for a terrific third shot which set up a makeable par-saving putt and a chance to force a playoff -- but it was not to be for the 32-year-old Australian.
McDowell was clearly devastated for his partner.
"What can you say? It was tough to say anything to him that was going to be of any relevance," he said after exchanging a warm and almost apologetic handshake with Scott on the 18th green.
"He's going to be extremely heartbroken and disappointed but he's a great, great, great player and that's what I tried to convey to him." (Editing by Tony Jimenez)