South African Ernie Els won the British Open by one stroke from Adam Scott after the Australian suffered an extraordinary late collapse on an incident-packed final day.

Scott, chasing his first win in a major, 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 saw him drop strokes at each of the last four holes to allow South African Els to slip in and lift the coveted Claret Jug with a two-under-par 68 giving him a seven-under total of 273.

It was Els's fourth major championship. Scott's sad 75 meant he had to settle for second place on 274, three shots ahead of former world number one Tiger Woods (73) and his fellow American Brandt Snedeker (74).

Graeme McDowell finished joint fifth on two under after a disappointing final round of 75.

Padraig Harrington fired a closing round 73 for a five over finish.

Rory McIlroy also closed with a 73 and ended a disappointing week for him on eight over par.

Els admitted he was only hoping for a play-off after he had finished his round, adding: "I'm a little numb at the moment.

"First of all I feel for Adam. He is a great friend of mine. We both wanted to win very badly but it's the nature of the beast. That's why we are out here. It was my time for some reason.

"A lot of people never thought I would win (another major). I started believing this year, I had a lot of help from a great team, my family and the professional team around me."

Scott, who had started the day four shots ahead of Brandt Snedeker and Graeme McDowell, said: "I'm pretty disappointed. I had it in my hands and managed to hit a poor shot on each of the closing four holes.

"But I played so beautifully for most of the week I certainly should not let this get me down."