AUGUSTA, Ga. – Ernie Els’ shocking display of putting yips on the first hole Thursday weren’t his only misses from close range.
They were just the only ones that went viral.
In one of the most bizarre scenes in recent major-championship history, Els, a four-time major winner, missed five putts from inside 3 feet on his way to an opening 9 at the Masters. It’s the highest score ever recorded at Augusta National’s first hole.
“There’s a short up there somewhere and you just can’t do what you normally do,” he said afterward. “It’s unexplainable. A lot of people have stopped playing the game getting that feeling. 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.”
After missing the first green to the left, Els nestled his chip within a few feet. That's when the trouble started, as he knocked his ball back and forth around the cup, missing putts from 2 feet, 3 feet, 3 feet, 10 inches and 11 inches.
The 46-year-old has battled putting yips over the past few years, relying on an anchored putter to win the 2012 Open Championship. (That stroke has since been banned.) But Els’ condition has worsened over the past few months, and he had two recent episodes during which he couldn’t shake in a putt from a foot away.
Els signed for an 8-over 80 Thursday, matching his worst score in 75 rounds at Augusta. He is ranked last in the field in putting, after taking 39 putts.
"I don’t know how I stayed out there," he said.
Compounding Els’ issue is Augusta’s notoriously difficult greens, which put even more stress on his short putting.
"I couldn't putt with a stick," he said. "When you have snakes and stuff going up in your brain, it's difficult. ...
"You make some stuff up in your brain. What holds you back from doing your normal thing? I don’t know what it is. I can go to the putting green now and make 20 straight 3-footers. Then you get on the course and you feel a little different and you can’t do what you normally do."
Jason Day, who was in the same group, said Els’ struggles were “the first time I’ve ever seen anything like that.”
“I didn’t realize he was fighting stuff like that upstairs with the putter,” Day said. “You just don’t want to see any player go through something like that, because it can be sometimes career-ending for guys if they really are fighting it that much.”