AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Ernie Els' par putt on the 18th hole Thursday was of the three-feet "I'll just clean this up" variety. It was uphill, fairly straight, the type of putt that a four-time major champion doesn't think much about.
Alas, Els with a putter on Thursday was not a four-time major champion. By then he was already a meme, the guy who took six putts on the first hole to produce the type of highlight sequence most golfers would rather not watch. And after Els missed that final three-footer and tapped in for an opening round 80, he spent several minutes trying to put words to something he couldn't comprehend.
"It's hard to explain. I can't explain it," Els said. "It's some short 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 and I know how they feel."
The focus was the first hole, when Els not only needed six putts, but six putts from inside three feet. Back and forth his ball went around the cup, putts so short you might have thought the whole thing was a practical joke. But having been through this ordeal before -- videos of earlier yips have already gone viral - -- Els wasn't laughing. His only salvation was what was originally reported as a seven-putt 10 was corrected to be a six-putt nine. Which is not to say Els was any less befuddled.
"I can go to that putting green now and make 20 straight 3‑footers," he said. "And then you get on the course and you feel a little different and you can't do what you normally do. So it's pretty difficult."
Remarkably after his opening disaster, Els played the next 15 holes in just one-over par, before carding back-to-back bogeys to close. To his credit, he stopped and answered questions about the round twice -- first to the electronic media, then to the print press. On a day when he was tempted to just walk off the course, he said he knew that would have been even worse.
"I'm not sure what I did," he said. "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. So, it's very difficult."