HOYLAKE, England – At least now there is context to Ernie Els’ short misses on his first hole Thursday at the Open Championship. Before missing back-to-back putts inside 2 feet, Els said he hit an elderly spectator in the jaw with his tee ball at Royal Liverpool. When retelling the story to reporters after the round, the Big Easy was still visibly shaken. “There was blood everywhere,” he said. “I really felt bad hitting it there into the people and hurting the guy the way I did. Hopefully he’s better now. It wasn’t very nice.”
Els admitted that it not only affected him on the green, where he made triple-bogey 7, but also during his outward 42. His opening 79 left him in a tie for 148th in the 156-player field. Els described the right-to-left shot off the tee as “like a bullet coming at him. He must have been in total shock.” “It was a nightmare,” he continued. “I’d like to put it behind me. I just hope the gentleman feels better, because he looked really bad when I left him there.”
Bubba Watson, who was playing in the same group, said he didn’t see the injured spectator, but he talked to Els during the round and could tell how much it disturbed him.
“You could easily tell he was shaken up by it,” Watson said. “You’re not trying to hit a bad shot in, but when you hit somebody like that it’s not a good scene, and it’s very heartbreaking. Obviously you could tell he felt it. I’m not saying that’s why he struggled on that hole, but I’m pretty sure that’s what it was.” Said Els: “I was thinking about him. There was blood all over. I was quite rattled. It wasn’t nice.”
The group was in a funk the rest of the day, with defending champion Phil Mickelson shooting 74 and Watson carding a 76. “I think I put a jinx on us,” Els said.
I have to think that weighed on his mind all round and possibly the rest of the tournament.