"I was sitting in that damn locker room there," Els said, smiling as he pointed toward a darkened glass window in the clubhouse.
He wasn't alone.
Next to him that day was a 20-year-old amateur, Tiger Woods, who had a 66 in the second round and was low amateur for the week at Lytham. Woods was asking Els for advice on whether he was ready to turn pro.
"He was trying to figure out his future, and I was trying to figure out if the guy was going to make double bogey or not," Els said. "Tom made par and Tiger turned pro. I was [doomed] either way."
Els broke into easy laughter. He eventually captured the claret jug six years later at Muirfield. As for the kid at his table? Woods turned pro, and now has three claret jugs among his 14 majors. Els has been a runner-up to Woods seven times, the most of any player.
They are at different places in their careers coming into the 141st British Open, which returns to Lytham for the 11th time when it starts Thursday.
Woods has won three times this year on the PGA Tour, again is the betting favorite whenever he plays, and needs only another major championship to shut up the skeptics who wonder whether he will ever return to being a force in golf. Els last won a tournament at Bay Hill two years ago, though he has given himself a chance in four tournaments this year, including the U.S. Open last month at Olympic.
The state of their games might be defined by this British Open.
Royal Lytham & St. Annes is identified mainly by its size and its views, or lack thereof in both cases. It is situated on the smallest piece of property of any links course in the Open rotation, and it is the only course that does not offer a glimpse of the water - the Irish Sea in this case.
The draw. Woods gets a familiar face for the first two rounds. He is in the same group with Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia.
It will be the fourth time in the last nine Opens for Woods that he plays alongside Rose. They also were in the same group at Muirfield in 2002, Carnoustie in 2007, and St. Andrews in 2010.
Luke Donald, the world No. 1 in search of his first major, is with Phil Mickelson and Geoff Ogilvy. Lee Westwood is with Masters champion Bubba Watson and Toshinori Fujimoto.
The field is 157 players, one over the limit. Two players would have to withdraw for the first alternate, Ben Crane, to get into the championship.