The defending champion was leading for the fifth consecutive round at the Masters on Thursday, a former world number one took six putts inside three feet on the first and Louis Oosthuizen kept himself in the mix with an opening level-par 72 at Augusta National on a windy first day.
Jordan Spieth was sublimely bogey-free as the winds gusted up to 40 kilometres an hour. He made six birdies for his 66, giving him a two-stroke lead over New Zealander Danny Lee and Irishman Shane Lowry. And it was the fifth consecutive round that Spieth led the Masters.
Poor Ernie Els saw his putting woes return with a vengeance as early as the first hole. He found himself needing one putt from inside three feet for par, and he ended up taking six.
But Oosthuizen held it all together to stay in the tournament on a day that made things difficult for many of the world’s best players. Even on the very short par-three 12th, nothing could be taken for granted. “I was saying to the guys, you sort of tee it up with crossed fingers and then hope,” he said. “And the caddie has both hands crossed, just to make sure that you got the right club. You could really feel the wind coming through from the 12th and 13th.
“The key is not really going at the pins, just trying to put myself somewhere on the bottom of the green where I feel like I can two‑putt to any pin and not really being too aggressive.”
Next best of the South Africans was Branden Grace on three-over 75. Former champions both, Charl Schwartzel carded a four-over 76 and Trevor Immelman was five-over.
Els slumped to an 80 after that disastrous start, and it was the short putts that stymied him. “I can’t explain it,” he said. “A lot of people have stopped playing the game, you know. I couldn’t get the putter back. I was standing there, I’ve got a three‑footer, I’ve made thousands of three‑footers and I just couldn’t take it back.
“And then I just kind of lost count after that – I mean, the whole day was a grind. I tried to fight. I’m hitting the ball half decent and I can’t make it from two feet.
I missed from two feet on 18 and a four‑footer on 17. When you count them up, it’s too many shots just out there, just on the green. So it’s very difficult. I’m not sure where I’m going from here.”
So while Els will spend time trying to figure out a way to just knock the ball in the hole, Oosthuizen will set about trying to catch Spieth. “I think that you got to play it the way you see it,” said Oosthuizen. “But hopefully you make a few 20 to 30 foot putts and get up there. I think aggressiveness is probably going to start late Sunday, if you really have a chance to win and you’re two or three behind, then you’re probably going to take on a few more pins on than you were going to.”