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Ernie Els shot a two-under 68 to win his second Open championship and the fourth major of his career.
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Els birdied 18 to finish at seven under par.
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Adam Scott led by four strokes with four holes to go, but he bogeyed the last four holes to finish second.
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"I had it in my hands with four to go," Scott said. "I managed to hit a poor shot on each of the closing four holes."
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"I feel for Adam Scott. He's a great friend of mind," Els said. "We both wanted to win very badly. But that's the nature of the beast."
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Tiger Woods tied for third after a three-over 73.
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Woods triple bogeyed No. 6 after he struggled to get out of a bunker.
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"Even the greatest players to ever play have all gone through little stretches like this,'' said Woods, who has not won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open.
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Graeme McDowell was poised for a run at the claret jug after a birdie on No. 8, but he bogeyed the next three holes to drop out of the mix.
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McDowell tied for fifth after a five-over 75.
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Brandt Snedeker shot a four-over 74, but he still tied for third.
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Snedeker started the weekend with a one-shot lead, but he closed with rounds of 73 and 74.
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Zach Johnson shot a five-over 75 to tie for ninth.
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Luke Donald made three birdies on the back nine to tie for fifth.
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Bubba Watson made six bogeys and two birdies for a 74.
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Rory McIlroy's struggles continued on Sunday. He finished the tournament with a three-over 73.
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Bill Haas birdied 18 for a 74.
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Dustin Johnson recorded his second straight top 10 at the Open.
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Mark Calcavecchia, 52, tied for ninth.