Ernie Els doesn't like his shot on the 12th hole Thursday. (Associated Press / Scott Heppell)
Hoylake, England — Ernie Els hit a spectator in the face with his opening tee shot at the British Open on Thursday, shaking up the two-time champion for the rest of his first round at Royal Liverpool.
The man’s injury and Els’ subsequent triple-bogey 7 on the first hole were just the start of his problems. The Big Easy will have a big task trying to stick around for the weekend after carding a 7-over 79, including 42 on the front nine.
Els said he was “quite rattled” after he realized the man, who he estimated was in his 60s, was bleeding profusely from a shot that Els said hit the spectator directly in the face.
“There was blood everywhere,” Els said. “It was like a bullet coming at him. I obviously felt pretty bad about it. It wasn’t nice. I was trying to hit it left, and should have told the starters to move the people back on the left side, but I didn’t do that.”
Els said he would make inquiries about the man’s recovery. Tournament officials said the spectator was not seriously injured.
On the first green, Els missed a bogey putt from about eight inches, bizarrely backhanded the subsequent foot-long putt just past the hole and tapped in for his triple bogey.
“Yeah, I was kind of finished. I started to miss short putts, it was just a nightmare,” he said.
Els said he may have “put the jinx” on his playing partners — defending champion Phil Mickelson shot 74, and Masters winner Bubba Watson had a 76.
Watson said he felt Els was affected by the man’s injury.
“When we got to the green Ernie said he hit somebody right in the jaw and he said it wasn’t good,” Watson said. “And you could tell Ernie was shaken up by it.”
There was a bit of comic relief on the 18th where Els had to gently prod a frog away from the tee box with his driver, prompting a smile.
Justin Rose played the first two holes of his opening round of the British Open without a driver after it was mistakenly removed from his golf bag by his caddie.
Rose’s caddie, Mark Fulcher, had arranged to send two drivers to a couple of his friends in England. Unfortunately, one of the drivers he gave away belonged to Rose.
The driver was eventually returned to Rose — but only after he started his round at Royal Liverpool.
Rose said, “It was a bit of a comedic start to the day, no doubt.”
The 2013 U.S. Open champion shot an even-par 72.
Five-time champion Tom Watson took the scenic route around Royal Liverpool in the first round.
“My driving today was pretty pitiful; I was in the rough, or out of bounds, or lost,” said Watson, who shot a 1-over-par 73 in a round that included four birdies, three bogeys and a double-bogey.
“I hit some decent iron shots, but with the driver, just getting the ball in the fairway was not very good. I am going directly to the practice range so I can work on something I thought about on the 18th tee.”
Two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton shot a 1-under 71 Thursday. He tied for runner-up behind Martin Kaymer at last month’s U.S. Open.
Compton said he was made to feel right at home in his first British Open.
“It’s been pretty calm … I see smiles and people saying, ‘Good luck,’” he said. “But I don’t think people really know of me yet.”
Compton underwent his first transplant at age 12 due to an inflamed heart muscle and another 16 years later after driving himself to the hospital while having a near-fatal heart attack.