AUGUSTA, Ga. – The morning after his stunning meltdown on the first green, Ernie Els staggered onto the practice area to a round of applause.
Els could have quit during the opening round of the Masters, after he missed six putts inside 3 feet on the very first hole. He could have withdrawn after the round, when his opening 80 matched the worst score of his career at Augusta National.
But no, he went back to work Friday, humbled and even a bit ashamed.
“You feel quite embarrassed,” Els said. “It was a very weird, surreal feeling this morning. I walked onto the range and even the players and caddies, they kind of looked at me as if I didn’t have pants on or something.”
It wasn’t the easiest night in the Els household, as you might imagine. Jordan Spieth was leading the Masters for the fifth consecutive round, but everyone, it seemed, was talking about Els, talking about that nasty four-letter word that so clearly had taken over his putting stroke.
A day later, the four-time major champion didn’t have much of an explanation. Searching for a solution for his putting woes, Els tried – on Tuesday of Masters week – to keep his hands high at address and swing the putter head like a pendulum. It didn’t feel comfortable, and over the tiddlers he struggled to take the putter back.
“Maybe I felt like that because my brain was telling me this is not normal,” he said. “It just went haywire.”
On Friday, Els returned to his usual method of putting, shifting more weight onto his left side and driving the ball down the line.
Sure, there still were moments of indecision – he missed a 2-footer on the first green, again – but he also carded four birdies during a second-round 73.
“I was almost back to my normal self,” he said.
Els would miss the cut, but on this day he tied his fellow playing competitor, world No. 1 Jason Day.
“It shows a lot of heart to come back,” Day said.
Els is also in the field next week at the RBC Heritage, but a few extra days off will help him develop a game plan moving forward.
“You play long enough,” he said, “you make a fool of yourself somewhere, but I did it on the biggest stage. But I’ll take something out of this. I’ll sit down and see where we go.”