Els endured a poor season in 2011, dropping out of the world's top 50 for the first time since 1993 and admitting he was "digging deep" simply to stay in the game that had brought him three major victories.
In desperation the 42-year-old turned to "visualisation coach" Sherylle Calder, a South African doctor who worked on "retraining" Els' eyes to improve his much-criticised putting.
So it was no wonder that Calder was one of the people Els thanked in his victory speech at Royal Lytham after holing four birdie putts on the back nine in his final round of 68, including the one from 15 feet on the 18th which eventually saw him finish one shot ahead of Adam Scott, who bogeyed the last four holes.
"When you've been where I was, you have no confidence in putting, you don't want to have that one coming back," said Els, who lifted the Claret Jug for the second time in his career, 10 years after coming through a four-man play-off at Muirfield.
"I was coasting everything up to the hole and wasn't giving the hole a scare. That's why I started working with Sherylle, just changed the whole thing, mindset, training, everything. I was really going from a totally different angle, which I liked, because I tried everything else.
"In March I looked like an absolute fool. 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. So to come through and make a putt like that (on the 18th) and make pressure putts on the back nine, that was the whole goal."
Els had finished second and third when the Open was staged at Lytham in 1996 and 2001, and looked destined for another close call when he went to the turn in 38 and Scott had steadied his nerves following a shaky start.
Even after birdies on the 10th, 12th and 14th from Els, a birdie from Scott on the 14th left the Australian four shots clear with four holes to play, but there was still time for more drama.
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Scott bogeyed the 15th and 16th and was in the process of doing the same on the 17th when he heard the roar from the 18th which accompanied another birdie from Els. That meant Scott needed to par the last to force a play-off, but, despite an excellent third shot after splashing out sideways from a fairway bunker, the 32-year-old's eight-foot putt slid by the edge of the hole.
"I'm still numb," added Els, who was on the putting green just hoping for a play-off as the drama unfolded. "It still hasn't set in. It will probably take quite a few days because I haven't been in this position for 10 years, so it's just crazy, crazy, crazy getting here.
"But I really feel for my buddy, Scottie, I really do. I've been there before. I've blown majors before and golf tournaments before, and I just hope he doesn't take it as hard as I did.
"Thankfully he's young enough. He's 32 years old. He's got the next 10 years that he can win more than I've won. I've won four now - I think he can win more than that."