South African Ernie Els won the British Open by one stroke from Adam Scott on Sunday after the Australian suffered an extraordinary late collapse on an incident-packed final day.
World No. 13 Scott, chasing his first major championship, started the last round with a four-shot lead and seemed to be cruising to victory as he maintained that cushion with six holes to play.
But a late attack of the jitters caused him to drop strokes at each of the last four holes, allowing Els to slip in through the back door and lift the Claret Jug with a 2-under-par 68 and a 7-under total of 273.
“It is amazing. I’m still numb. It still hasn’t sunk in yet,” Els told reporters after adding to his previous major victories in the 1994 and 1997 U.S. Opens and 2002 British Open.
“I feel for Adam, he’s a good friend of mine,” added Els whose victory extended to 16 the streak of different major winners. “I was just hoping at best to get into a playoff when I was on 17, then I birdied the 18th and heard what happened to Adam.”
Scott’s sad 75 meant he had to settle for second place at 274, three shots ahead of former world No. 1 Tiger Woods (73), whose hopes were dashed by an ugly triple-bogey at the sixth, and his fellow American Brandt Snedeker (74).
“I am pretty disappointed,” Scott said. “I managed to hit a poor shot on each of the closing four holes and they cost me. As I played so beautifully all week I shouldn’t let this get me too down.
“It’s funny, I definitely worked myself up a little bit at times, but once I was out there I felt completely in control and even the last few holes I didn’t really feel like it was a case of nerves or anything like that.”
Els, who will rise from 40th to 15th in today’s world ranking, played the best golf of all the leading players Sunday, but missed a host of birdie putts until making a forward move by picking up strokes at the 12th, 14th and 18th.
The smooth-swinging South African rolled in a 15-foot putt at the last.
Els, the second successive 42-year-old to win the Open following Darren Clarke 12 months ago, raised his arms in the air, high-fived his caddie and threw his ball into the grandstand before walking off the green sporting a wide grin.
Scott, by contrast, was a picture of abject misery 20 minutes later and appeared close to tears.