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Els' secret plan unravels to leave spectator bloodied

'Walk with the greats'.

Ernie Els of South Africa walks with Bubba Watson of the United States during the second round yesterday. Picture: Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Ernie Els of South Africa walks with Bubba Watson of the United States during the second round yesterday. Picture: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

They say it is the way to watch an Open, so for a few hours yesterday I followed the trio that was Ernie Els, Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson. It's not often you watch three major champions where the right-hander is the odd one out.

Els was out the loop in more ways than one. I've been keeping a special eye on the big South African at this Open, given that, in a conversation last week at Royal Aberdeen, he shared with me the secret of successfully negotiating Hoylake.

You'll know where I'm going here.Ernie's secret didn't quite hold up. With his opening shot on Thursday he hit and bloodied a spectator in the mouth, took a triple-bogey 7, carded a first-round 79, and followed it yesterday with a 73 to miss the cut on +8. With his faint tub around the midriff, plus a renewed battle with a conventional putter with a view to the R & A's 2016 "broomhandle" ban, life is evidently quite challenging for Ernie these days.

When he finished yesterday afternoon Els declined to utter a cheap - and this from a man who is pretty well disposed towards the press. It was left to Mickelson, one of his playing partners, to speak for him. "I've been friends with Ernie for decades now," said Lefty. "He was pretty shaken by that incident yesterday. He came over to me and said, 'I just hit a guy in the mouth and there was … ' I said to him, 'look, you can't worry about stuff like that.' But it didn't help him any."

Mickelson, meanwhile, believes he's still in with a shout this weekend, though he is pinning his hopes on the weather after rounds of 74 and 70 left him at level par.

"If the winds start tomorrow you're going to see a lot of scoring at five, six, seven over par, so if I can shoot something under par I'd be right in it for Sunday," he said.

At the base of Mickelson's bag is says simply: Respice et Prospice.

Bubba Watson says he hardly ever watches golf on the TV. It's too negative, he says, and the comments by the commentators leave him riled.

This is in keeping with Bubba's general view of the world, where all the shouting, shooting and cheating really grates on him.

"Some of the golf coverage is not much fun to watch," said Watson, irked after a round of 72 left him at +4. "I'll watch the LPGA - now they are always positive. It would be rare to hear a negative comment on that.

"But I hate the negative [TV] comments about our golf. You've got guys trying their hardest but you are always hearing, 'oh, that's a terrible shot.' I've hardly heard one positive comment about me - I'm still waiting on that one.

"That's why I don't watch much golf ... too much negative stuff going on. In fact, it's not only about golf - it's about the whole world. I just can't watch that stuff."

After two rounds this week when things haven't gone to plan, Bubba was asked: does it rankle, does it fester?

"Nope," he said. "I don't let stuff linger. I'm not that kind of person. I've got more issues to worry about than missed putts.

"If I have a bad round, I still go out, have dinner with friends, I sleep like a baby, then I go and try to play good golf the next day."

It's a familiar scene in golf watching the decline of the great champions. Sandy Lyle could tell you a bit about that, having featured regularly in such tales.

Lyle yesterday added an 84 to Thursday's 82 to put him near the foot of the field at +12. "It was hell out there," he said. "My first hour of my first round wasn't too bad, but then it was all downhill."

As great golfers get older there is a recurring theme in what they tell you - that on the practice-range they are hitting it great, but just not out there in tournament golf. Arnold Palmer, then well into his 60s, much favoured this line.

Lyle said he came to Hoylake this week with almost a spring in his step. "Last week I played some golf up in Scotland, on some difficult courses, and shot a few low 64s, so I thought I'd make the cut here," he said. "But, if you're not on line a few times, this golf course is cruel."

Still just 56, Lyle has plenty more Open punishments left in him. See this same space this time next year.

Overheard behind the ropes at Hoylake yesterday:

"Hello, Charlie!"

"Well, hello Roger! How are things?"

"Oh, fine, fine," replies Roger. "We've got a match against the Hittites in two weeks' time … can't wait."

Gary Player is now 79 years old but as incorrigible as ever. He's at Hoylake this week in an ambassadorial role, having played 46 Opens in total between 1956 and 2001.

According to Player, a freak for health-fitness and "longevity", he still does hundreds of press-ups and sit-ups daily in an effort to remain - relatively speaking - one of the fittest athletes on the planet.

One other thing Player has proved prolific at is collecting honorary degrees from various universities around the globe, a process, he grumpily told me, he has decided to put a stop to.

"I've told 'em to stop giving me 'em," said Player. "I've got enough of these things." At my last count Player had accumulated something like 13 honorary doctorates.

The nine-time major champion also revealed that he is "praying to God that Scotland does not leave the rest of the United Kingdom" come the big tee-up at the polls on September 18.

God forbid, Gary says to that.

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