He’s in the golf course design game himself, so Ernie Els appreciated every shot he could chisel out of the Pete Dye’s TPC Sawgrass in the opening round of the Players’ Championship as he carded a four-under-par 68.
“Pete Dye’s a genius, but he’s a sinister man,” said Els after his round which left him five shots off the hot pace set by former world number one Martin Kaymer who fired an impressive course record 63. “I’ve always felt very uncomfortable on the tees here. Although it’s a short course, he’s got his little tricks of the trade. So I always felt uncomfortable off the tees here.”
Els’ round was given a kick-start, after he bogeyed the second, when he pitched in with a 52-degree sand wedge from just 100 metres on the fourth. “I enjoyed my second shot on number four,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of guys hole their seconds there, mine went in the hole today. So that was very nice.”
He dropped a shot again on the sixth and the 15th, but five birdies in his round saw him finish in a share of 12th together with the likes of Dustin Johnson, Joost Luiten and Bill Haas.
“I chipped in on 14 for birdie after missing the fairway right,” he said. “I got pretty fortunate on 12, too. Pushed my drive right there when I made the par. But I hit a couple of greens, too.
“Every hole here is a birdie opportunity, but every hole is an opportunity for a double bogey also. If you miss a shot, you’re playing catch up all the time. This morning we were fortunate. It was pretty soft, no wind, guys were taking dead aim. It starts blowing and it gets firmer, then it starts getting tricky,” he added.
And Els’ respect for the course was backed up by Kaymer’s comments after his round: “You can be a little bit more aggressive because the greens are softer than the last few years, but it’s not an easy golf course,” Kaymer said.
“You have to hit a lot of fairways. If you hit the fairways then you can go for some flags, but once you’re in the rough, especially with that grass and the Bermuda grass from the rough, it’s very difficult to judge the distances. Then it’s a very tricky golf course. But I hit a lot of fairways today, and therefore I could go for some flags.”
Kaymer’s point was backed up some of the high scores, of which there were plenty, including some big numbers from notable names. Forty-six players shot 75 and higher, including Phil Mickelson (75), Webb Simpson (75), Brandt Snedeker (75), Jimmy Walker (75), Louis Oosthuizen (77) and Adam Scott (77).
Rory Sabbatini was the next best of the South Africans, finishing one-under together with former champion Tim Clark, while Charl Schwartzel and Retief Goosen each signed for par-72s.
Ahead of them, Els had no illusions about how tough the rest of the tournament would be. “Tomorrow it will be a battle again and just try and hit every shot the way you’re supposed to hit it,” he said.