Hoylake (United Kingdom) (AFP) - Two-time Open champion Ernie Els endured one of his toughest days on a golf course at the British Open on Thursday when his first tee shot hit a spectator in the face.
The popular South African, winner of the Open in 2002 and 2012, hooked his opening tee shot wide of the fairway at Royal Liverpool and it struck a man flush in the head.
Minutes later and clearly disturbed by the incident, the 44-year-old Els somehow managed to three putt from three feet when he tried to tap in a six-inch putt with the back of his putter only to see it slip wide.
"There's a bunker on the left and actually on the practice rounds I was looking to maybe missing it left. That is obviously what I did," explained Els after a round of 79 that left him 13 shots back of leader Rory McIlroy and in serious danger of missing the cut.
"It's obviously a dangerous shot, and obviously that's what happened, I hit the guy right in the face and there was blood everywhere.
"I felt pretty bad about it, because I was trying to hit it, you know, left, which I did. And obviously I probably should have started to move the people left on the left side, but I didn't do that.
"So I really felt bad hitting it there into the people and hurting the guy the way I did. Hopefully he's better now, but it wasn't very nice."
Els, who also won the US Open twice in 1994 and 1997, said the incident completely ruined his day.
"I was kind of finished after that and then I started missing short putts. It was a nightmare, so I'd like to put it behind me and just hope the gentleman feels better, because he looked really bad when I left him there.
"It was right in the face and you think the worst. It was like a bullet coming at him, so he must have been in total shock. He didn't look very good and I did speak to him, and he wasn't feeling too good
"He was probably in his sixties.
"Obviously I've hit spectators before but maybe in the leg or the back. I've never hit a guy, you know, the ball is moving hard right to left to right in the face.
"I remember my buddy Frank Nobilo getting hit in the head, and basically ended his golf career, it hit him right on the chin.