Ernie Els six putts for 9 at first

Ernie Els looks forlornly at his putter during the first round. Picture: AP
Ernie Els looks forlornly at his putter during the first round. Picture: AP
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Four-time major winner Ernie Els suffered a nightmare start to the Masters, taking an incredible six putts on the opening hole.

Els, who thought he had conquered the dreaded “yips” earlier this season, looked set to save par on the 445-yard par four after missing the green with his approach but hitting an excellent pitch.

However, the 46-year-old missed from three feet and needed five more attempts to get the ball in the hole, the last two being taken with one hand as his frustration understandably soared.

The resulting quintuple-bogey nine is the highest score on the hole in Masters history, surpassing the eights taken by Olin Browne and Scott Simpson in 1998, Billy Casper in 2001 and Jeev Milkha Singh in 2007.

Els, who finished second at Augusta National in 2000 and 2004, somehow regrouped sufficiently to hit his approach to the par-five second to 25 feet, but three-putted for par and eventually carded an opening round of 80.

“I can’t explain it,” Els said. “I couldn’t take the putter back. I had three goes and then it went all over the place. I don’t know how I stayed out there. The last thing you want is to be out on the golf course.

“I’m not sure where I’m going from here. If you have snakes in your brain it’s difficult. Maybe I need a brain transplant.

“It’s hard to explain. Something withholds you from doing your normal thing. I could go on the practice putting green and make 20 straight three-footers.”

Putting problems contributed to tournament host Els missing the cut in the BMW SA Open in Johannesburg in January, the South African’s par putt from 18 inches on his final hole of the opening round not even touching the hole.

Els had missed two similar putts in the space of a month towards the end of last season and admitted at the time he did not want to watch the first of them after it went viral on the internet.

With anchored strokes banned since January 1, Els cannot go back to the ‘’belly’’ putter with which he won the last of his major titles in the 2012 Open, but was determined that the problem will not mean the end of his stellar career.

Commentating for Sky Sports during the third round in Johannesburg, Els said: ‘’I’m so stubborn. I felt like I could do the same thing I have for the last 30 years and get the same results.

‘’I putted cross-handed in the second round and it felt so much better. I love the game too much, I’m not going to stop. I’m going to get over this by using the cross-handed method and still have fun out there.’’

Els appeared to have succeeded after finishing 18th in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in February, saying after an opening 68: “I went through a very tough spell, I think everybody saw that.

‘’I’m kind of starting to rekindle my love for putting again and the rest of the game has always been there, so I feel like I can still do something.”

World number one Jason Day was playing alongside Els and said: “It’s the first time ever I’ve seen anything like that. I feel for Ernie. I didn’t realise he was fighting stuff like that upstairs with the putter. But it’s painful for players to go through that.

“I’ve had sort of chipping yips and hitting yips before, but not to a certain degree where he was missing one and two foot putts. You just don’t want to see any player go through something like that, because it can be sometimes career ending for guys like that if they really are fighting it that much.”