JUST four months after looking like an "absolute fool" - in his own words - with no confidence in his putting, Ernie Els sank a 15-footer for birdie on the final green that won him the British Open on Sunday.

The South African completed a final-round 68 at Lytham to win the Claret Jug by one shot after Australian Adam Scott bogeyed the last four holes.

"Obviously, in March I looked like an absolute fool," Els said.

"People were laughing at me and making jokes about me and really hitting me low, saying I'm done and I should hang it up.

"When you've been where I was, you have no confidence in putting, you don't want to have that one coming back. I was coasting everything up to the hole and wasn't giving the hole a scare."

Since then, Els has completely changed his approach on the greens. "It comes from retraining your whole outlook on putting," he said.

"I just changed the whole thing, mind-set, training, everything. And I was really going from a totally different angle, which I liked, because I tried everything else."

Els, 1994 and 1997 US Open champion and British Open winner at Muirfield 10 years ago, said that he had not seriously considered quitting the game.

"That's easier said than done, isn't it? This game is a tough game we play. It's a physical game. It's a mental game.

"You've got to have your wits with you, otherwise you have a missing link and it doesn't quite all come together. So to play the game as long as I have, for 23 years now as a professional, you're bound to go through every emotion out there."

The former world No1 said he took inspiration from his autistic son Ben and the "Els for Autism" Foundation he has set up.

"Coming out publicly quite a few years now ago with Ben and the autism, it took a lot of work to get the foundation set up, the right people and our mission statement."

Els said he felt more settled now that the foundation was running smoothly. "I think emotionally or mentally I'm also in a better place than I have been in the last couple of years with the whole situation."

Ben loves watching his dad hitting golf balls. "I made a lot of putts today (Sunday) with Ben in mind, because I know Ben's watching.

"He loves it when I hit golf balls. I know he was watching today and I was trying to keep him because he gets really excited. I wanted to keep him excited today, so I made a lot of putts for him today. You guys should see him. He's a wonderful boy now and he's a bright boy, so we're going to have a lot of fun."

Els also paid tribute in his victory speech to former South African president Nelson Mandela.

"Believe it or not I was lying watching cricket and I was just kind of day-dreaming and that thought came through me in a split second," he said. "If I win, I told myself, I'd better thank president Mandela because I grew up in the era of apartheid and then changing into the democratic era president Mandela was right there.

"Right after the change I was the first one to win a Major, so there's a lot of significance there in my life."

n Tiger Woods crawled his way up to second place in world rankings yesterday, but the American, fresh from his joint third finish at the British Open, is unlikely to make a song and dance about that.

For a man who has spent 623 weeks at the summit, a greater craving would be to add to his already impressive list of 14 Majors.

There was no hint of impatience in his voice after the famously focused Woods had a final round to forget at a sunny Lytham, carding his first triple bogey at a Major since the 2003 Open.

"It's part of golf. We all go through these phases. (For) some people it lasts entire careers. (For) others . a little bit shorter," Woods said when asked how it felt not to have won a Major since the 2008 US Open. Woods kept his composure remarkably well given the setback at the sixth hole on Sunday, and still came tied third after a three-over-par 73 to end four shots behind Els.

The American now sits just one place behind world No1 Luke Donald after a failed attempt to land a fourth Claret Jug.