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Els escapes Daly grind
- SCOTTISH OPEN

With Ernie Els taking a total of nine hours to complete his rain-interrupted opening 64 in the Barclays Scottish Open at Loch Lomond Thursday, it was a day to try the patience of a saint, let alone John Daly.

Daly, who has found it difficult to focus since his mother’s death last November and has had nothing better subsequently than a tie for seventh place in Houston, had got off to the worst possible start, amassing a triple-bogey seven at the 10th, his first, before the rain delay. When he reappeared later, he added a bogey at his second hole before hitting back with a couple of birdies and a seam of pars.

It was in mid-par at the 16th that the player came close to losing the plot. He had driven into long rough and was calling for relief from a small junction box which, he claimed, was on his intended line. When Mike Stewart, the first referee on the scene, refused to give him a drop, the former PGA and Open champion asked for the “head man”, in this instance, John Paramor.

The latter agreed with Stewart and showed Daly the relevant ruling. At which point Daly flung his glove at his caddie with the comment: “I haven’t got a shot.”

After he had taken a hurried hack at the ball, Paramor told him to calm down. Against all the odds, Daly’s next blow caught the green and, all of a sudden, those who had had the feeling that he was about to fling himself and his clubs into the loch were witnessing the most improbable of pars. How the crowd cheered, for everyone in this part of the world has a soft spot for the recovering alcoholic.

Coming home, Daly missed a handful of short putts to finish with a 74, which will call for something rather special on Friday if he is to make the halfway cut.

Where Phil Price, who had a four-under-par 67, watched rugby league during his rain break, Els played in the creche with his small daughter, Samantha. Els had tuned into the weather forecast on Wednesday night and knew precisely what to expect. Starting from the 10th, the reigning Open champion made three successive pars through the worst of the storms before the siren sounded. When he returned and was looking for nothing more than to settle back into the round, he promptly holed a nasty downhill putt at the 13th for the first of three successive birdies.

The round prompted the question whether Els was a better player than he had been when he won at Muirfield. Els is never going to do a Colin Montgomerie and say “I feel two shots up on the first tee”, or any such thing. However, he clearly — though what he had to say was in fact a little obscure — feels he has taken another step in the right direction.

“My form’s better,” he began, “though that doesn’t mean I’m going to win next week. I’ve put a lot of work in, both on and off the course, and I want to say that I’m a better player.”

David Howell has had plenty of bad breaks, including the arm which snapped last year when he tripped over his shoelaces while he was out jogging. That kept him out of the game for 11 weeks while, earlier this year, he missed another seven weeks with a strained shoulder. Things started to come right for the player with his second place in the recent French Open and, on Thursday, he emerged from the trying conditions with a 66 which included a lost ball and a seven.

Phil Mickelson was out in 41 and setting out from the 10th tee at the same time as residents in the stately clubhouse were sitting down to dinner. Mickelson was likely to finish but there were others who were going to be doing well to reach the turn.

One way and another, it was a day to put everyone in mind of the Scottish Open of 1997. That was the year when Tom Lehman handed in the leading score at 10 o’clock at night and, on coming into the press tent, took one look at the weary writers and said: “I’ve come to put you all to bed.”

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