LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — Ernie Els threw his ball and doffed his cap to the cheering fans after his birdie putt fell at Royal Lytham's 18th hole, doing a little half-pirouette in delight at a strong British Open finish.
The Hall of Famer accepted congratulations, signed his card and strolled over to the putting green to await the inevitable letdown.
"I just thought I'd be disappointed again," said Els, who over a star-crossed career has spent more time than he cares to admit waiting for playoffs that never came.
The playoff never came.
Ernie Els is Champion Golfer of the Year.
Adam Scott's four-bogey finish Sunday left a stunned Els in possession of the Claret Jug for the second time, culminating a chaotic final half-hour in which the Australian's quest for a first major title went from clear sailing to shipwrecked.
"I'm still numb. It still hasn't set in," Els said not quite an hour after the whirlwind finish. "It'll probably take quite a few days, because I haven't been in this position for 10 years.
"It's just crazy. Crazy, crazy, crazy. A crazy game."
Four birdies on the back nine lifted Els to a two-under-par 68, capped by that 20-footer at No.18 that seemingly beelined into the hole. He was the only man from Sunday's final seven pairings to break par as gusty winds finally arrived to give Royal Lytham some teeth.
Even so, it wouldn't have been enough without Scott's slippage.
"I'm pretty disappointed," said Scott, who led by four after a birdie at No.14. "I had it in my hands with four to go and proceeded to hit a poor shot on each of the last four. That's what happens on a course like this."
The Australian instead becomes the latest among the Open's recent hard-luck casualties. Jean Van de Velde remains the (fool's) gold standard, blowing a three-shot lead with his triple bogey at Carnoustie's 18th in 1999.
Thomas Bjorn left a two-shot lead in a 16th-hole bunker in 2003 at Royal St. George's. Three years ago, 59-year-old Tom Watson came up one hole short of a turn-back-the-clock victory for the ages.
Scott finished with a 75 that included seven bogeys. Els was the only man to shoot par or better all four days, finishing with a total of seven-under 273.
Tiger Woods was four shots back in a tie for third, carding a 73 that included an adventurous triple bogey at No. 6. A bunker shot caromed back and almost hit him, and his eventual escape came from an awkward position on the bank above.
"Overall I'm pleased with the way I played," Woods, who also made three consecutive bogeys on the back nine, said afterward. "Unfortunately, just a couple here and there ended up costing me some momentum — especially today at [No.] 6."
Brandt Snedeker shared third with Woods after a 74, dropping from contention after double bogeys at Nos. 7 and 8. Graeme McDowell (75) and Luke Donald (69) were another shot back.
Sunday's triumph came 10 years and one day after Els' other Open crown, when he won a four-man, four-hole playoff at Muirfield. He preceded that withU.S. Opentitles in 1994 and '97.
But he'd also lost an Open playoff to Todd Hamilton in 2004, three months after he waited on the Masters putting green for possible extra holes. Phil Mickelson birdied No.18 for his first major title.
"I really feel for [Scott], but it's the nature of the beast," Els said. "It was my time for some reason."
Scott had missed a short par putt at No.16 moments before Els' final birdie, setting up the final drama.
An approach shot at No.17 sailed into lush rough right of the green, and Scott's chip flew 12 feet past the flag for a third consecutive bogey. Grabbing a three-wood on the 18th tee, he watched helplessly as his drive skipped against the wall of one of the 17 bunkers on the hole, leaving him with no shot at the green.
After Scott chipped out sideways, a splendid wedge touched down in the middle of the green and rolled into birdie range. The putt, however, stayed a hair too far left.
"I know I've let a really great chance slip through my fingers," he said.