Ernie Els clinched his second Open title after long-time leader Adam Scott spectacularly imploded at Royal Lytham & St Annes.
The 42-year-old South African birdied the 18th to end seven under as Australia's Scott bogeyed the last four holes to come second by one shot.
Els, who began the day six shots adrift, clinched his fourth major title and first since winning the 2002 Open at Muirfield.
The putt that won Ernie Els the Open
The 1994 and 1997 US Open champion carded 68 to the 75 of Scott, who had led since the sixth hole on Saturday.
The 32-year-old Scott was four shots clear on the 15th tee and needed to hole from 10ft on the last to force a play-off.
"I am just numb at the moment, I feel for Adam Scott, he is a great friend of mine," said Els, who picked up £900,000 in prize money.
"We both wanted to win so badly, but I really feel for him. That is the nature of the beast, that is why we are out here.
"It was my time. I was hoping at best a play-off. A lot of people never thought I would win but I started believing this year, getting a lot of help from my family and the professionals around me."
threatened at times but a triple bogey via a greenside bunker at the par-four sixth and three straight bogeys from the 13th sank his chances of a 15th major and first since the 2008 US Open.
Els's Open record at Lytham
with Mark McCumber two shots adrift of American Tom Lehman
behind champion David Duval and Niclas Fasth after final round 69
The 36-year-old carded a three-over 73 to end tied third at three under alongside playing partner and fellow American
Woods said: "It's part of golf - we all go through these phases, some people it lasts entire careers, others are a little bit shorter. Even the greatest players to ever play have all gone through little stretches like this."
the 2010 US Open champion, was playing in the final group for a second straight major but again struggled to engage the leader.
The Northern Irishman took 75 to tie for fifth at two under with England's world number one
who climbed up the leaderboard with a 69.
Scott's capitulation must rank worse than Rory McIlroy's Masters meltdown in 2011 and up there with Jean van de Velde's final-hole drama at Carnoustie in 1999.
Faldo's expert analysis
Nick FaldoThree-time Open champion and BBC Sport analyst
"Els didn't do anything sensational, he just kept playing solid golf.
"They have been rebuilding his putting stroke for years now, but something has clicked psychologically. It is incredible the power of the mind.
"Adam Scott's Achilles heel is pulling his mid irons, which he did at 17. After that he should have throttled back with a two iron or something off the tee at the last to keep out of the bunkers.
"It will be scarring for him to get into such a position in a major. It will take a lot of fixing."
His defeat called to mind his compatriot Greg Norman's loss at the Masters in 1996 when Nick Faldo overhauled a six-stroke deficit to snatch victory at Augusta in the last round.
"I'm very disappointed but I played so beautifully for most of the week I really shouldn't let this bring me down," said Scott.
"I know I've let a really great chance slip through my fingers today, but somehow I'll look back and take the positives from it."
Els, who was ninth at last month's US Open, becomes the 16th consecutive different major champion and moves up from 40th to 15th in the world rankings. He also finished tied second when Royal Lytham hosted the Open in 1996 and tied third when it was last held on the Fylde coast, in 2001.
Scott led by four overnight and was still four clear of second-placed McDowell by the turn as the expected challenge in a stiffening breeze failed to materialise.
Els was six shots adrift after going out in two-over 36 but he edged into the frame with birdies at the 10th, 12th and 14th.
His putt across the final green set up the prospect of a play-off but Scott found a bunker with his drive and was unable to make his par.
Donald, who like Scott is also still searching for a maiden major title, echoed the Australian's feelings, and the feelings of many in the field.
"Certainly I'll leave this week knowing that my game is definitely good enough to win majors," said the 34-year-old, who finished five shots behind Els.
"Unfortunately I couldn't quite hole the putts, but I'll take a lot of positives away from this week."
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