(CNN) -- Veteran golfer Ernie Els took advantage of a remarkable collapse by long-time leader Adam Scott to win the British Open for the second time at Royal Lytham and St. Annes Sunday.
The 42-year-old South African posted a two-under 68 in testing conditions on the links course in North West England to go into the clubhouse on seven-under 273, but Australia's Scott still looked set to claim his first major title.
However, a disastrous run of four straight bogeys from the 15th saw the 32-year-old finish one shot adrift of former world No. 1 Els, who won his fourth major title and his first since claiming the British Open in a playoff in 2002.
Scott, who had led by four shots going into the final round, pulled his tee shot on the 18th into a bunker, but a fine third left him with an eight-foot putt to force a playoff.
It went agonizingly wide of the hole to leave him with a final-round 75 and his hopes of glory cruelly dashed.
By contrast, Els finished with a birdie on his final hole and had been on the practice putting green preparing for a possible playoff.
He had immediate words of sympathy for the beaten Scott.
"First of all I feel for Adam. He is a great friend of mine," he said. "We both wanted to win very badly but it's the nature of the beast."
A stunned Scott, who had started the day four shots ahead of American Brandt Snedeker and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, admitted he had blown it.
"I'm pretty disappointed. I had it in my hands and managed to hit a poor shot on each of the closing four holes," he said.
"But I played so beautifully for most of the week I certainly should not let this get me down."
The expected challenge from Tiger Woods petered out after he made a triple bogey on the par-four sixth.
He eventually carded a three-over 73 to end three under alongside playing partner Snedeker in a tie for third.
McDowell, the 2010 US Open champion, also disappointed and fell away with a 75 to tie for fifth at two under with England's world number one Luke Donald, who raced up the leaderboard with a 69.
Els is the 16th different winner of a golf major in a row, but it looked an unlikely scenario when he was six behind Scott after dropping two shots to the turn.
But he picked up birdies at the 10th, 12th and 14th before his last-hole flourish to put the pressure on the Australian, which eventually paid dividends.
Els has slipped down the world rankings in recent years and did not qualify to play in this year's U.S. Masters at Augusta.
He had gone without a win in 36 major starts since his 2002 British Open triumph at Muirfield, but had never lost faith.
"It was my time for some reason," Els said. "A lot of people never thought I would win another one. I started believing this year."
He is the same age as last year's surprise British Open winner Darren Clarke, who missed the cut in his title defense.