His name was Dr. Trey Holland, chairman of the USGA Rules Committee, and he nearly gave the tournament to Els. What happened was that Els got himself a stomachful of hummingbirds on the 1st tee and smashed his driver into rough you could lose a piano in. At that point Ernie had to wish he were somewhere Els, because the best he could do was chip out sideways and make bogey, and the worst he could do was make double and lose the Open five minutes into his round.
But that's when Holland decided that an ABC cherry picker with a camera on it was in Els's "line of play" to the hole. "It's a temporary immovable obstruction," said Holland. It was temporary, all right, but it certainly was the first object on wheels ever called immovable. Holland allowed Els a free drop on a sweet patch of trampled-down grass.
"Dang," said a fan nearby. "Why don't you just give him a tee?"
Els knocked it onto the green, then three-putted anyway. Not long after, the "immovable obstruction" started up its engine and drove off.
"I made a mistake," Holland said later. "I feel bad."
Els got an even lovelier ruling 16 holes later, on the 17th, when not only were his wheels coming off, but the axles, muffler and ashtray, too. Having just three-putted the par-3 16th to fall back into a tie with Roberts at six under, he tried to drive the 315-yard par-4 17th and hit it so far left his ball wound up behind the bleachers by the green. The urologist said those three words again—"temporary immovable obstruction"—and suddenly Els had gotten more free lifts than a Clinton staff member. This time Els was allowed to get out from behind the bleachers and then drop 15 yards forward into a lovely, flat, predetermined drop area, which he enjoyed very much, chipping up to within five feet of the hole.
That ruling was a mistake, too, but it wasn't the doc's fault. The USGA allows a drop from behind bleachers and such things, but a drop circle that lets you advance the ball 15 yards!
All right, Freddie. Just let rip with one of them screaming pull hooks so it winds up behind the Haagen-Dazs stand. You get to drop on the green.
Els graciously two-putted for a four and then went out and nearly blew it all on the next hole by doing the stupidest thing in his young life. Leading by one but not knowing it, he tried to "knock the stuffings out of it" with a driver on the par-4 18th; he hit it left of left, so far left that it ended up in front of the 15th tee, with nothing much between him and the green but a hanging willow tree and a ditch and a hillock with a bunker on the other side of it. Incredibly, it was a drop-free zone.
"I thought I needed a birdie to win," said Els, who deliberately hadn't looked at a scoreboard since the 15th hole. "If I'd known [that I was leading], I'd have hit a two-iron or three-wood. I'm kicking my backside over that one."