World Cup fever breaks out at U.S. Open

Soccer fans blow vuvuzelas in a fan zone near Pretoria, South Africa on Wednesday. The noisemakers are banned on the PGA Tour, of course. But Ernie Els is open to the idea to allow them during the practice rounds. Seriously?

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Ernie Els of South Africa is interviewed during a press conference prior to the start of the 110th U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – It doesn’t matter what continent you are on, everybody’s talking about the FIFA World Cup – even U.S. Open competitors at Pebble Beach.

Players, including Ernie Els, Francesco Molinari and Lee Westwood, are chiming in this week about the other big international sport in progress. Don’t be surprised if players text friends to find out scores – and just be grateful vuvuzela noisemakers are banned in the galleries.

Two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els, playing in his 18th Open, has enjoyed a successful 2010 season so far with two wins on tour.

But Tuesday’s media session with Els quickly turned to soccer and his native South Africa, which is hosting the month-long World Cup.

Els’ parents are visiting the U.S. now, but that didn’t keep them from watching last Thursday’s opening ceremony with their son.

“I must say my hair was standing on end for about 20 minutes,” said Els on Tuesday. “It’s just an amazing spectacle down there, the biggest sporting event in the world, and we’re hosting it. Hopefully, I can get down there, maybe for the quarterfinal or semifinal.”

Els and Molinari even said that having the vuvuzelas – a traditional South African noisemaker – on site for practice rounds, perhaps, wouldn’t be so bad.

“It would be fun to play with that noise. It would be something different for sure,” said Molinari, who finished ninth at the Players.

During his practice round, Molinari said his mind was on Italy’s game against Paraguay – an eventual 1-1 tie. “We were texting back home to see if the score was changing,” he said.

England’s Lee Westwood jokingly said he was the only player hoping for a rain delay last Saturday at the St. Jude Classic so he could watch the England-U.S. match.

“Thankfully, I didn’t get a rain delay, and I didn’t have to watch it by all accounts,” said Westwood, referring to England’s disappointing draw with the U.S.

Westwood drew parallels between a golf playoff, which he won Sunday, and a soccer game.

“It’s a bit like being in a playoff really,” he said. “You don’t want to give the first couple of holes away and be too aggressive.”

Westwood jokingly deflected a reporter’s question regarding England goalkeeper Robert Green’s mistake that led to the tie.

“Yeah, I saw the U.S. goal. What’s your point?” he said, laughing. “Mistakes happen. I’ve made them on the golf course at spectacular times. You’re not trying to do it, it’s just one of those things.”

With victories like the one at St. Jude, Westwood at least has shown he can recover from his gaffes. He’ll have to wait to see if his beloved England can do the same.

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