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Ernie Els played a solid final round of golf to clinch the Claret jug for the second time in his career after Adam Scott threw away a commanding lead.
Els finished seven-under-par after he birdied the 18th hole. Scott bogeyed the final four holes to leave him one shot adrift at the challenging links course at Royal Lytham & St Annes.
Els, who started the day six shots off the lead, wins his fourth major title ten years after he won his first British Open in 2002.
“I am just numb at the moment, I feel for Adam Scott, he is a great friend of mine,” said the 42-year-old South African. “We both wanted to win so badly, but I really feel for him. That is the nature of the beast, that is why we are out here.”
“It was my time. I was hoping at best a play-off. A lot of people never thought I would win but I started believing this year, getting a lot of help from my family and the professionals around me,” he added.
Scott had a four-shot lead with four holes to play, and will regret not making the most of the opportunity to secure his first major win.
His meltdown was reminiscent to Rory McIlroy’s 2011 US Masters crumble, which saw the Northern Irishman lose a four-shot lead in spectacular fashion in the final round of last year’s event at Augusta.
“I’m very disappointed but I played so beautifully for most of the week I really shouldn’t let this bring me down,” said Scott.
“I know I’ve let a really great chance slip through my fingers today, but somehow I’ll look back and take the positives from it,” he added.
Elsewhere, Tiger Woods played, by his standards, fairly poor golf. A triple bogey at the seventh hole saw his chances of a 15th major championship disappear, but he birdied the final hole to finish tied for third with Brandt Snedeker.
World number one Luke Donald had a solid four days, but would have liked to have holed more putts on a tough course. He finished in a tie for fifth place with Graeme McDowell, whose final round struggles saw him drop from second place overnight.
It was the 16th consecutive major with a different champion, a trend that looks likely to continue with a wealth of up and coming young golfers.
Results:-7: Els (SA)-6: Scott (Aus) -3: Snedeker (US), Woods (US) -2: Donald (Eng), McDowell (NI) - 1: Aiken (SA), Colsaerts (Bel)