PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – No one seemed more surprised by Ernie Els’ opening 66 at The Players Championship than the Big Easy.
“I've got a love-hate relationship with [TPC Sawgrass architect] Pete Dye. Me and Pete, we love each other sometimes, and I hate him sometimes,” Els laughed. “This course has had its way with me. Nice to get one up on the course, and the conditions were great.”
Els has come by his strained relationship with the Stadium Course honestly, having finished inside the top 10 just four times in 22 trips to the PGA Tour’s flagship event; and his first-round 66 was his best card around TPC Sawgrass since Round 3 in 1996 when he shot a 65.
“I loved it from the first time I played it, to be honest with you. But you've got to play it properly. You can't just go out there and give it a go,” Els said. “I tried it on like two holes and I didn't quite get into position and it cost me a bit.”
Els was particularly pleased with his putting on Day 1, needing just 24 putts which is dramatic improvement over his infamously poor performance during round one of the Masters when he six-putted the first green on his way to 39 putts.
“You want to forget about it as soon as you can,” Els said of his Masters putting. “I feel comfortable, and I've been working hard since then on things that I have been doing, if it holds up. I feel good.”