Former world number one Ernie Els rolled back the years with a splendid round of 66 at TPC Sawgrass on Thursday. Despite opening with a bogey at the first, the South African only got better. When asked about his all-round game the four time major winner said, ‘I think a bit of everything. The short game was good, but I felt like I hit a lot of fairways for me, and gave myself some chances, especially early on the front nine, and I made some putts.’
The flat stick has plagued Els several times in his career, and he recently six-putted the first hole at Augusta National. On Thursday at TPC Sawgrass he was hot on the greens and was rewarded for it.
‘Since Augusta? Yeah, yeah. I mean, that was obviously — you want to forget about it as soon as you can. But it is what it is. I feel comfortable, and I’ve been working hard since then on things that I have been doing.
‘Really, I made a putt on my very first hole from I guess 20 feet. On 15, my sixth hole, I made at least a 30-footer there. It feels really good. That’s what a 66 does to you,’ he said.
The five-time SA Open champ has made several cuts this year, but only has two top-30 finishes. His round of 66 matches his best of the PGA Tour season, which he previously shot in the final round of the RBC Heritage.
The highlight of his day was an eagle three at the second hole, where he hit a 219-yard approach to eight feet and then boxed the putt.
The 19-time PGA Tour winner’s low round was founded on a 31-stroke first nine, which started at the 10th and included five birdies. He made a final birdie at the ninth (the 18th of his round) before signing for six-under-par and a share of seventh. Els may have grabbed some of the headlines, but remained philosophical about his experiences at Sawgrass.
‘I mean, I haven’t treated this course very well, and it hasn’t treated me very well in the past,’ he said. ‘You know, on a day like this, the course is in unbelievable shape. The greens are great. The fairways are good. So it’s been — that’s really been nice because we’ve come here in the last five, six years and it’s been pretty bad.
‘Playing practice rounds, got a little bit more excited about it. We worked a bit on Tuesday and yesterday evening. The body feels good, touch wood. I can get into the same positions that I’ve got into in my prime. I guess I couldn’t quite do that for a while now, but I’ve felt good. We worked on those kind of things, getting into those same positions, and it felt comfortable today, swing and putter,’ he said.
Els will hope to string a good second round together as he pursues overnight leader Jason Day, who opened with a nine-under 63.