Like all good monsters who make them come flocking to Scottish lochs, Ernie Els was out of sight here yesterday. The South African giant certainly gave the rest of the field the hump as he slipped off the radar with a four-shot lead after the second round of the Scottish Open.
The reigning Open champion was at his indefatigable best as he put a 67 to go with his opening 64 for an 11-under total ahead of Phillip Price in second. As most of his rivals got weighed down in the bog caused by yet another day of rain at this wettest of tournaments, Els took it all in that loping stride of his. Birdies on the fifth, sixth and seventh took him to the turn in 33 and although the world No 2 dropped his guard long enough to let an errant bogey slip through on the 12th, he soon shored up his defences again with birdies on the next two holes.
"I've been in this position quite a few times before, so I know what I have to do," Els said, rather ominously. "The trick is to stay within yourself and not to get ahead of yourself. That's what I have to do this weekend." Indeed, it is difficult to imagine anyone getting ahead of Els in the next two days apart from himself.
If not in touch with, then at least in the same county as Els was Price, who came here fearing a hangover after his victory at the K Club in last week's European Open. But heads rarely come as level as Price's, who capped off what he called "an average round" with three birdies on the last five holes for a 68. Are back-to-back victories a possibility for the Welshman? "That all depends on Ernie," he confessed. "If he starts playing fantastic then we're all in trouble."
Many thought they already were, although John Daly was extricating himself from the mucky stuff he had put himself in with an opening 74, with a 66 that contained five birdies, one eagle and that inevitable double-bogey to put him at two under.
It also put him within striking distance of the pack lining up behind Price. On six under are Australia's Terry Price and South Africa's Tim Clark, while lurking one behind that pair is another Welshman, Bradley Dredge, who had the worst of the course on Thursday night, when the greens cut up due to an early morning downpour that suspended play.
The 30-year-old was one of 45 players who had to complete their opening rounds in yesterday's morning drizzle and, with just one hole to play, finished in style with a birdie at the last for a 69. He maintained the form with a 68.
He should be in for a lucrative weekend, but one man just happy to be around for some competitive golf before Sandwich next week, was Phil Mickelson, the American left-hander who recovered after an opening 76 with a 68 yesterday to scrape in under the cut at two over.
It was not all smiles from Mickelson, however, as his response to a magazine article by Butch Harmon, imploring him to forsake distance for accuracy, is probably the nearest you will ever get to a spat in the polite circles of American golf.
The magazine reveals that Tiger Woods's coach had told Mickelson when he saw him that he should think about putting away his driver and find more fairways and more greens if he is ever to win a major. Mickelson replied to Harmon that he could not possibly do without that extra "10 yards". Harmon's comeback to that was for Mickelson to look at Woods's trophies and see what he could get without that "extra 10 yards".
Yesterday, when asked about Harmon's advice, Mickelson said: 'Yes, I've heard that theory. I think I have missed fairways with two irons and three woods as I have with driver. I don't think it's distance that's the problem."
Scottish Open: (Loch Lomond) Leading early second-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 131 E Els (SA) 64 67. 135 P Price 67 68. 137 B Dredge 69 68. 138 P Lonard (Aus) 70 68. 139 B Rumford (Aus) 67 72, Garbutt 70 69. 140 I Pyman 69 71, P Hedblom (Swe) 68 72, M Roe 72 68. 141 C Pettersson (Swe) 69 72, C Montgomerie 71 70, A Forsyth 72 69, A Hansen (Den) 72 69. 142 E Canonica (It) 71 71, J-F Remesy (Fra) 71 71, G Evans 71 71, G McDowell 71 71, A Oldcorn 71 71, J Manuel Lara (Sp) 73 69, B Barham 72 70. 143 M Lafeber (Neth) 74 69, R Bland 72 71, P Casey 69 74, S Gallacher 73 70, C Schwartzel (SA) 75 68. 144 M A Jimeñez (Sp) 72 72, P McGinley 73 71, P Mickelson (US) 76 68, S Leaney (Aus) 74 70. 145 S Lyle 73 72, J M Olazabal (Sp) 73 72, S Dodd 72 73, J Rollins (US) 70 75, J Van Hauwe (Fr) 69 76