Golf 7.4.2017 08:54 am

Classy Ernie Els makes the best of his ‘last’ Masters

Ernie Els starred as the best South African after the first round of the Masters. Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images.

Ernie Els starred as the best South African after the first round of the Masters. Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images.

The “Big Easy” strokes an excellent even-par 72 in the first round at Augusta … and if he keeps it up, this won’t be his last tournament.

Four-time major-winner Ernie Els turned back the clock with a level-par 72 in the opening round of the Masters at Augusta on Thursday night.

The “Big Easy” finds himself tied for 12th, seven-shots behind American Charley Hoffman who was a class apart in round one with a seven-under 65 to lead by four in biting cold and windy conditions.

Also read: South Africans at the Masters: All you need to know

Els went out in three-over, but rallied with four birdies and just one bogey coming home to sign for a satisfying effort to begin his campaign.

The 47-year-old leads the way among the South Africans in the field, with Charl Schwartzel compiling a two-over 74 for 26th place, Branden Grace settling for 76 and a share of 54th, Louis Oosthuizen in 66th after a 77 and Trevor Immelman near the back of the field in 86th after shooting a 79.

The former world number one has seen his world ranking slip to 410th, and could well be playing in his last Masters off the five-year exemption he received for winning the 2012 Open Championship.

There is hope for Els, however, as the top-12 players and ties receive an invite to the tournament the following year.

Maintaining his place near the top of the leaderboard, though, could prove difficult with the quality field that’s present.

“Obviously I’ll take a 72 in these conditions,” said Els.

“And after what happened last year, it was quite different. I was hoping for an easier day. I played good golf on the back nine and you’ve got to keep doing what you are doing.

“We are going to be absolutely exhausted by the end of the week if this weather keeps up. This is some of the toughest conditions I’ve ever played in. We’ll see how it goes.”

With windy and rainy conditions dominating the buildup and much of day one, the experience of Els in difficult weather came in handy.

“I wouldn’t say I’m a links specialist, but I like to play linksy golf.

“You had to play some of those shots. The greens were quite receptive because of the rain, so you can play a low shot in there. Normally Augusta National doesn’t receive that low shot; today it did. And I just kept doing that.”

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