Ernie Els won the British Open — his fourth major title — after Adam Scott bogeyed each of the last four holes.

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LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — Painfully for Adam Scott, he was absolutely correct.

Just as he had explained before Sunday’s final round, a four-shot lead was not safe at this British Open, not even with four holes to play and not even with Scott looking every bit the part of a first-time major champion after a birdie at No. 14.

But golf is the ultimate mind game, and though Scott, a talented 32-year-old Australian, has tried to alter the equation in the last two seasons by changing his putter and his caddie, he could not change his luck in the tournaments that still define golfers.

With his sunglasses still in place but his form crumbling, Scott made four straight bogeys on the final four holes at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club. And when Scott’s last par putt of 8 feet rolled just to the left of the cup on the 18th green, this year’s Open champion was Ernie Els.

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Rarely has a major winner greeted victory in such a minor key.

“I feel for Adam Scott; he’s a great friend of mine,” said Els, a popular South African. “Obviously we both wanted to win very badly. I really feel for him, but you know that’s the nature of the beast.”

Els, whose 7-under-par total of 273 was one stroke better than Scott, knows plenty about the beast that is major pressure. Despite his nickname, the Big Easy, it has hardly been easy for Els to get his hands back on the claret jug. This was his fourth major championship but his first since 2002, when he won the British Open at Muirfield in a playoff after surrendering a final-round lead.

Els closed with a 68, compared with Scott’s 75.

“It was a very sloppy finish by me,” Scott said.

Americans Tiger Woods (73) and Brandt Snedeker (74) tied for third place at 3 under.

Kyle Stanley (76) of Gig Harbor tied for 39th place at 5 over.

Els is 42, the same age Darren Clarke was when he won the Open at Royal St. George’s last year. Clarke found a rare vein of form in extreme conditions and has done little of golfing note since his surprise victory.

Els, even though he failed to qualify for the Masters this year, has been gathering strength and confidence, but this triumph was still quite a shock considering he was six shots off the lead when the final round began and still six back when he completed the front nine in 36, or 2 over.

But on a blustery day when Royal Lytham & St. Annes finally began to play like a brute, Els managed to feed off his frustration and commit to playing more aggressively and hitting more drives off the tees.

“When you’ve been around as long as I have, you’ve seen a lot of things happen,” Els said. “And I just felt that the golf course is such, if you just doubt it a little bit, it was going to bite you.”

He birdied the 10th, the 12th, the 14th and, most important, the 18th and said he made many putts while thinking of his 9-year-old son Ben, who is autistic and was watching on television.

“He loves when I hit golf balls,” Els said. “He’s always there. He comes with me. He loves the flight of the ball and the sound. I knew he was watching today, and I was trying to keep him — because he gets really excited — I wanted to keep him excited today.”

Skepticism surrounded Els earlier this year.

“In March people were laughing at me and making jokes about me and really hitting me low, saying I’m done and I should hang it up,” he recalled. “To come back, and to make a putt like that (on No. 18) … to sit here now is quite satisfying.”

Scott, meanwhile, endured a final-round collapse that will rank among the most complete at any major.

“I had it in my hands with four to go and, you know, managed to hit a poor shot on each of the four closing holes, which costs you on a course like this,” Scott said. “I’m very disappointed.”

Scott said his missed par attempt on No. 18 “never really had a chance.”

Els ended his round with a 15-foot birdie putt and headed to the practice green in case there was a playoff.

In perhaps the most crushing defeat of his career, Els was on the putting green at Augusta National in 2004 when Phil Mickelson made an 18-foot birdie putt to win the Masters. “I just thought, ‘I’ll probably be disappointed again,’ ” Els said.

Disappointment was a common theme Sunday. Woods, five shots off the lead when the day began, could surely smell an opportunity when Scott started the day with a bogey, a birdie and another bogey. But Woods made a triple bogey on the par-4 sixth hole after requiring two shots to get out of a deep greenside bunker that forced him to his knees for the second shot. It was Woods’ first triple bogey in a major championship since the 2003 British Open.

Final round of the British Open (par 70), with totals and scores relative to par:
Golfer Score Par
Ernie Els 68 — 273 -7
Adam Scott 75 — 274 -6
Brandt Snedeker 74 — 277 -3
Tiger Woods 73 — 277 -3
Luke Donald 69 — 278 -2
Graeme McDowell 75 — 278 -2
Kyle Stanley 76 — 285 +5
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