Those of a cruel disposition call him the Big Difficult but anyone who has dealt with Ernie Els will attest to his status as the gentle giant of the game.
He dislikes the moniker The Big Easy with a passion because his silky smooth swing was dug out of the dirt of South Africa and not handed to him from above.
Even with four majors on his dining room table, the game has been cruel to the big man, whose six-putt from three feet for a nine on the first hole in the opening round made news worldwide and reduced a great player to ridicule.
The yips is a horrible affliction but Els showed he’s far bigger than those who taunt him. Not only did he remain on the course on Thursday and post an 80, he came back out to face his demons again yesterday and carded a one over par 73 that was all the more remarkable considering his start.
He didn’t quite six-putt but a three-putt double bogey, which included a three putt and a missed 18 incher, was not what his psyche required.
He also yipped a three foot birdie putt at the second but after bogeys at the fourth and seventh, he birdied the eighth, rolled in a three footer for a two at the 12th and a seven footer for birdie at the 13th and a seven footer for another at the 15th, where he crashed a stunning 234 yard second to 40 feet.
He also made a four footer for par at the 16th and while he bogeyed the 17th, he holed a seven footer at the last for a par and a 73 that left him with his head held high.
After his six-putt on Thursday, a round that featured 39 putts, Els sounded like a man who had reached the end of his tether.
“I’m a little dead inside,” Els told reporters after trying in vain to explain the “unexplainable” on Thursday.
Yesterday, he was far more serene if a little red-faced.
“After yesterday I felt quite embarrassed,” he said. “It was very weird going out onto the course, an almost surreal feeling. Out on the range I was getting some strange looks. People were looking at me like I didn’t have any pants on or something; like I’d robbed something and been caught. But to be fair they had good reason to look at me funny.
“When you play this game long enough you’re going to make a fool of yourself somewhere and unfortunately I did it on the biggest stage.
“It wasn’t too bad last night. The whole house was still in a bit of shock. I watched the NBA game between Miami and Chicago and slept ok.
“But this morning I felt really down when I got to the course. I felt kind of funny. But I tried something different when I obviously shouldn’t have done, and was almost back to my normal self by the end there.” Asked what he took from the week, Els said: “Well, just an unbelievable test. I don’t think I’ve ever been tested like that ever before. Kind of try to just play the golf course, try and get back into my routine, just do my routine, my normal routine, and kind of started playing okay. So, it was a real great test to me.”
As for the dreaded yips, he said: “It could be anxiety, it could be a lot of stuff, so definitely not my normal self, especially the last two days.
“It could be because I’m running out of time at this beautiful place and maybe putting a bit too much pressure on myself to putt like that. So, we’ll figure it out.”
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