Notebook: Proof of Els' past prowess is on the wall
Plus, Trevor Immelman heads home after his baby unexpectedly arrives early, Seve Ballesteros is searching for his missing magic, Graeme McDowell hopes his expertise on links courses will give him the upper hand, and more.
HOYLAKE, England -- Three players at the Open have hoisted trophies at Royal Liverpool, even though it hasn't been part of the Open rotation since 1967.
Paul Broadhurst won a Pro-Celebrities Tour event in the early '90s. Mikko Ilonen of Finland won the 2000 British Amateur. And then there's Ernie Els.
In a corner hallway of the clubhouse are framed black-and-white photos, including one from the Tillman Trophy in 1988, a junior event. Standing in the middle, tall and gangly with an awkward smile and mussed hair was Els.
"It was a very long time ago; it was almost 20 years ago," Els said. "I remember winning that tournament in a playoff, but that's about it. I can't remember the winning score or anything."
Still, the Big Easy has seen the photograph.
"There's a beautiful picture in the clubhouse if you want to see," Els said with a grin. "I haven't changed much."
BABY COMES, IMMELMAN GOES: South African Trevor Immelman has pulled out of the Open to return to the United States to be with his wife, who has given birth to their first child.
Immelman had not been expecting to miss the Open, but received a call telling him his wife Carminita had given birth to a boy by Caesarean section. As Immelman caught a plane back to Orlando, his replacement, Australian Andrew Buckle, was catching a flight in the opposite direction on his way to Hoylake.
"We went to the doctor right before I came over here and he didn't see any chance that she was going to have the kid this week," Immelman had said on Monday. "My wife really wanted me to come over to this tournament. She knows it's my favorite."
REMEMBER ME: After Ben Curtis finished his work on the putting green Tuesday, he took his bag to the storage room at Royal Liverpool for safekeeping overnight.
There was only one problem. The guard stationed at the room didn't recognize the 2003 Open champion.
"I need to see a caddie or player badge," the guard said.
Curtis realized that his sunglasses, propped up on the bill of his Kansas City Chiefs cap, were blocking his badge. He lifted up his glasses and was promptly let into the room.
"Don't they remember you won this tournament?" someone asked.
"I guess not," Curtis said with a shrug.
A BRIT FOR THE BRITISH: It's been seven long years since a British golfer won the Open, but maybe it's time for a breakthrough. Five Brits, including perennial favorite Colin Montgomerie, are ranked among the top 50 in the world.
David Howell is the best of the lot at No. 10, followed by Luke Donald (11th), Montgomerie (13th), Paul Casey (29th) and Paul Broadhurst (50th).
"Lee Westwood was the only English player in the top 100 four or five years ago," Montgomerie said. "It just comes and goes. It's something that's purely coincidental. If we win one, we might four or five in a row. You never know how these things happen."
Paul Lawrie was the last British champion, winning a playoff after Jean Van de Velde's monumental collapse on the 72nd hole at Carnoustie. He's the only Brit to win their namesake event in the last 13 years.
The Americans have done particularly well in this event, capturing nine of the last 11 titles even though they don't spend a lot of time of links-style courses back home.
"I think we sometimes underestimate the American shot-making potential that they obviously have," Montgomerie said. "They keep on winning this event and winning it well."
FIRE WARNING: Firefighters are standing by at the Open -- and it's got nothing to do with cooling off the sweltering fans.
Britain is in the middle of a rare heat wave, with temperatures soaring into the 90s, and a long spell of dry weather prompted officials at Royal Liverpool to post fire warnings around the course.
"We have liaised with all the appropriate authorities and are advising spectators to take care and apply due diligence given the hot weather and the dry conditions on the course," said David Hill, director of championships for the Royal and Ancient Club.
In other words, no tossing a still-smoldering cigarette butt onto the yellowed, beaten-down grass.
"The fire authorities are close at hand and are aware of all the measures we have put in place," Hill said.
IN SEARCH OF MAGIC: Stuart Appleby made no attempt to paper over the obvious cracks in Seve Ballesteros' golf game. As the 49-year-old three-time champion prepares for his Open return after playing just two European Tour events in 32 months, Appleby said sadly: "He's the magician who's lost his magic."
Despite all the applause from fans and the pride he felt at having his eldest son Baldomero as his caddie, Ballesteros, whose last appearance in a major was the 2003 Masters and who has not made a halfway cut in one for more than 10 years, looked downcast after his first practice round.
"It feels great to play on a links course again after so many years, but it's a bit difficult. Not easy, tricky," said the Spaniard, whose swashbuckling days have long since departed unlikely ever to return.
"It's just a pity and I don't like to see it. I played with Seve at St. Andrews in 2000 and he had a few issues with the ball going left there," Appleby added. "Now he's a bit older, a bit stiffer. He's still a magician, but I'm not sure he's searching for that magic any more. I think he realizes he's not going to be the player he was.
While Ballesteros says his arthritic back was OK, his opening drive set the tone for the day. He hooked it so badly that someone thought it struck the leader board by the adjoining 18th green. At the par-4 eighth, he sent one tee shot wildly right, put down another ball and with an iron hooked that out of bounds.
"I've not competed for a long time. I'm here to enjoy it and see if I can play a few shots," said Ballesteros. "It's great to walk up the fairways with my son as caddie. He wanted to come and he's very happy to be here."
LOVING THE LINKS: Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell hopes his upbringing on links courses will provide an escape route out of a slump that has seen him fall to 103 in the world.
The 26-year-old honed his skills at Royal Portrush, one of the finest links courses in the world, and despite a worrying slip in form, memories of his formative years came flooding back on his arrival for the Open.
Now McDowell is hopeful he can use that to his advantage and kickstart a disappointing season that has so far brought only one top-10 finish, at the British Masters in May.
"I would hope, having grown up on links golf, it would give me an advantage this week," he said. "There is no doubt in the practice rounds I have fallen back into some natural links golf, which, when you grow up on it, will always be there.
"I found certain shots I'm going to need this week came back to me pretty quickly, especially the short game -- just chipping and running around the greens and the style of play," he added. "I've been playing those shots all my life and I enjoy the creativity. You could be chipping with anything this week from lob wedge to 3-wood."
Hot and dry conditions have left the course hard and bouncy with much of the rough having died off due to the lack of water.
Some players, mostly Americans who are used to the lush, green pastures of the PGA Tour, have been bewildered at the state of the course. McDowell, however, is relishing the challenge.
"I can imagine some guys this week have not seen anything like it," he said. "This is links golf at its most raw. I played Sunday and I couldn't believe how baked out the place was. I can't wait to see how it looks this Sunday."
Copyright 2006 Associated Press and PA Sport. All rights reserved.