Instead, he became just another of the 28 players who failed to break 80 at Shinnecock Hills on Sunday, and he didn't stick around to let anybody know how it felt.
Els started the final round in the last pairing with fellow South African Retief Goosen.
As Goosen was presented the trophy with the sun setting following a 1-over 71 that gave him a two-stroke victory over Phil Mickelson, Els was leaving the course without talking to the media.
Els' 10-over 80 was his worst round ever at the Open, and he finished at 7-over 287, tied for ninth. He started the day tied with Mickelson, two strokes behind Goosen, who now joins Els as a two-time Open champion.
If Els had won the Open and Tiger Woods had finished lower than sixth, Els would have taken over the No. 1 ranking in the world, which Woods has held since August 1999. Woods finished tied for 17th at 10-over 290, but Els didn't come close to winning.
Els won the Open in 1994 and 1997 and added a third major when he won the British Open in 2002. Known as the 'Big Easy,' Els lived up to his reputation as an unflappable player. Until Sunday.
He opened with a double-bogey 6 and took back half the damage with a birdie at the par-4 third. But he followed that with consecutive bogeys and then closed his front nine 41 with a bogey on No. 7 and a double-bogey on 8.
'Ernie got off to a bad start and that set the tone for his day, although he made a nice birdie at 3 and I thought that would get him back in it,' Goosen said.
The back nine started the same way as the front, with a double-bogey and a birdie, but Els bogeyed 13 and doubled 14 before closing out with four pars.
He watched Goosen make a par putt on 18 to win it and congratulated his longtime friend and then kissed Goosen's wife before walking away.
'We were both in our own sort of zone and didn't speak to each other except for `Good shot,'' Goosen said. 'Ernie was supportive on the back nine. A couple of times he said, `Knock it in,' but that was about it.'
Els' scores for his 12th Open read 70, 67, 70 and 80. The last of the rounds accounted for all but one of his five double-bogeys for the week, and he only reached seven greens in regulation Sunday, well off the 10.3 he averaged for the first three rounds.
His Open scoring average entering this week was 71.51, and his previous worst was 77 in the third round at Southern Hills in 2001. Goosen won that year, too.
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