Els can't overcome hitting fan, shaky start

July, 18, 2014

HOYLAKE, England -- Ernie Els is a very strong man in every conceivable way -- note the work he has done for the cause of helping his son, Ben, and millions of other children who have been diagnosed with autism.

But Els is also known as a very nice man, which might explain why he lost any chance of winning the Open Championship for the third time with his very first swing of the tournament.

Els' wayward opening drive Thursday veered left and struck a spectator in the face. The Big Easy didn't take it easily, and for good reason.

"There was blood everywhere," he said.

Els was so distracted and so distraught, he three-putted from a foot and finished the first hole with a triple-bogey 7 to start a round of 7-over 79 he called "a nightmare." The four-time major champion later discovered the spectator wasn't badly hurt.

"Really tough day today," Els tweeted. "Just spoke to the gentleman I hit on the 1st and happily he's fine. Got him some tickets at @The_Open this weekend."

Only Els won't be joining that gentleman at Royal Liverpool for the weekend. He did turn in a score of 1-over 73 Friday, but it was much too little, much too late to make the cut. And when his round was complete, Els peeked into the media interview area where playing partners Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson would speak and quickly ducked away.

Asked how badly he thought Els was affected by the incident, Mickelson said, "Yeah, he told me even before that (three-putt) happened. He said, 'I hit him in the mouth.' And he was shook up. And I tried to say, 'Look, you can't worry about that. I do that all the time.' But it didn't help, I guess."

Els admitted Thursday that he couldn't stop thinking about the injured man, whose name wasn't released by tournament officials.

"Yeah," he said, "I was kind of finished."

In the end, a genuine good guy was done in by compassion. There are worse ways to exit the Open Championship.

Ian O'Connor

ESPN Senior Writer
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »