Ernie Els may have become golf’s forgotten man, but he hasn’t completely forgotten how to play.
Els, who hasn’t contended down the stretch in the three majors completed this year, finally made a good start, a 1-over-par 71 in the opening round at the PGA Championship on Thursday.
It’s way too early to suggest he will follow it up over the next 54 holes, but the signs were good for the 38-year-old South African, who recovered from a double-bogey at the par-4 14th to finish in style with a birdie at the difficult par-3 17th.
Els almost birdied the par-4 18th too after a fine approach shot, but a 12-foot birdie putt slipped by the cup, leaving him three strokes from the lead.
“I made a big blunder on 14,” admitted the three-time major champion. “You never want to make a double-bogey in a major, especially after a rain delay, but at least I had a very good finish and I’m still in it.”
Els described the course as a “real beast” and lamented that the rough just off the fairway is often the thickest.
The United States Golf Association, which runs the U.S. Open, in recent years has unveiled graduated rough that gets longer as it gets further from the fairway.
This, in theory at least, invokes a greater penalty on very wide shots, rather than those that merely trickle off the fairway.
However, the PGA of America does not seem to have bought into the USGA’s policy, judging by the way it has set up the course here.
“If you’re going to miss it, you might as well miss it a long way,” Els said. “You can miss it by just a couple of yards and you’ve got no shot out of that rough.
“Conditions were really tough. The breeze was blowing, the fairways were firm and it was really tough to keep the ball in play on the fairways.”