PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Each tournament he plays takes Ernie Els further away from the Masters. Every round like the 6-under 66 he posted Thursday in The Players Championship brings hope that the worst is behind him.
The most compelling meltdown from the Masters was Jordan Spieth hitting two shots into the water on the 12th hole on his way to a quadruple-bogey 7 that cost him the lead and eventually the tournament. Equally uncomfortable to watch was Els on his first hole.
He took six putts — the last five of them from the 3-foot range — and made a 9. That was on top of a few videos over the last year, including one from the Dunhill Links Championship, when he missed the entire hole from inside 2 feet.
But there's no greater stage than the Masters, and images of the Big Easy linger.
"You want to forget about it as soon as you can," Els said after a 66, a career-low in his 76 rounds at the TPC Sawgrass. "It is what it is. But I feel comfortable, and I've been working hard since then on things that I've been doing, if it holds up. I feel good."
Just as difficult as the number of putts he missed at the Masters was dealing with advice that came from all corners of the globe in the weeks that followed. There was talk about how to cure the yips, which Els says he does not have. He says the yips are more neurological; this was more about technique and confidence.
Bernhard Langer, the two-time Masters champion who has dealt with the yips for most of his career, didn't think Els had them.
"I didn't have a chance to talk to him, but it was shown so many times it was hard not to see in a sense," Langer said this week. "I felt for him, and I'm not sure it was a case of yips in this instance. It can happen. ... I think he putted very well the next day, so we're pretty sure it wasn't a case of the yips."
Els bounced back by going to Hilton Head and tying for 14th. He also played the Texas Open and missed the cut.
His mistake was trying something new during the week of the Masters, and it didn't quite work out. He has abandoned that and is slowly working his way back.
"No, no, no. We've gone away from that," he said. "A lot of people want to help you and get you better. If I just did what I thought I should do, I'd be better off. But sometimes you listen, and it's just ... it wasn't like the guy was trying to harm me. He's trying to get me better. It just didn't work for me.
"And unfortunately," he added, "I tried it on the world's biggest stage."
Most alarming about Els shooting a 66 — with only 24 putts — is the venue more than the timing. The Big Easy first played this event in 1993, before Spieth was even born. He only has four top 10s, none higher than a tie for sixth.
But he rolled in a 10-foot birdie on the 10th hole to start his round. He knocked in a pair of 30-foot birdie putts.
"The short game was good," Els said. "But I felt like I hit a lot of fairways for me, and gave myself some chances, especially early on the front nine, and I made some putts. Really, I made a putt on my very first hole ... and I made a few good putts. On 15, my sixth hole, I made at least a 30-footer there. It feels really good.
"That's what a 66 does to you."