No player can win any golf tournament, much less a major, on a Thursday, but World Golf Hall of Famer Ernie Els showed everyone how to put oneself in an almost impossible position after only one hole in the first round of the 80th Masters.
He took six putts after chipping onto the par-4, all but one within 3 feet, and one miss from 11 inches leaving him 4 feet for the next. A one-handed swat also missed and left him a tormented soul who was talking to himself. Between the time of the start of his round and 6:30 p.m., live scoring at the tournament recorded the score as a 10. At 6:30 p.m., after he signed his card, it officially was changed to a nine.
Els, a four-time major winner, including two U.S. Opens and two British Opens and 19-time PGA Tour champion, has been having trouble with short-putting “yips” for the past several months, including a short miss at the Dunhill Links in October that went viral as an Internet video, and another at the South African Open in January.
“I can’t explain it,” Els said. “It’s something that I’m sure up there somewhere that you just can’t do what you normally do. It’s unexplainable. A lot of people have stopped playing the game. You know, it’s unexplainable. I couldn’t get the putter back. I was standing there. I’ve got a 3-footer. I’ve made thousands of 3-footers, and I just couldn’t take it back.
“And then I just kind of lost count after, I mean, the whole day was a grind. I tried to fight. I’m hitting the ball half decent, and I can’t make it from two feet.
“I missed from two feet on 18 and a 4-footer on 17. … So it’s very difficult. I’m not sure where I’m going from here.”
The first hole used to be one that allowed players to settle comfortably into a round.
Tom Watson, playing his 43rd and final Masters and a two-time winner of a green jacket, was asked about Els’ struggle on the hole. “That’s hard,” he said. “No. 1 is right up on top of the hill. It can really blow right up on top of the hill. It’s probably the windiest green on this golf course.”
Three-time champ Phil Mickelson said: “It’s a tough opening hole. It never used to be like that. It used to kind of give you, get you going a little bit. Now it’s one of the three or four most difficult holes on the golf course, and actually, I just love starting with a par. I don’t even think about trying to birdie the first hole out here any more.”
There have been four players in tourney history who have scored an eight on the first hole, one that played as the second most difficult hole in Thursday’s round, including Olin Browne and Scott Simpson in 1998, Billy Casper in 2001 and Jeev Milka Singh in 2007.
Els’ nine isn’t close to the worst Masters hole score in competition. Tom Weiskopf once recorded a 13 at the par-3 12th in 1980, and Tommy Nakajima matched that at the par-5 13th in 1998.
In 74 previous Masters’ rounds on the first hole, Els had never scored worse than a double-bogey 6 once while making seven birdies, 56 pars and 10 bogeys. And he previously had only one hole with worse than a double bogey in his 21 previous Masters.
Els recovered briefly, shooting par over the next eight holes on the front nine for a 41 at the turn. But a bogey-bogey finish, fueled by two more short missed putts, left him at 80.
“I’m not sure what I did. I don’t know how I stayed out there. But you love the game and you got to have respect for the tournament and so forth, but it’s unexplainable. It’s very tough to tell you what goes through your mind. It’s the last thing that you want to do is do that on a golf course at this level,” Els said.
The Els’ moment had some recalling the famous Seve Ballesteros response after putting trouble at No. 16 in the 1988 Masters. Ballesteros four-putted from 15 feet and was asked how it happened: “I miss, I miss, I miss, I make.”