By Ann Liguori
» More Columns

AUGUSTA, Ga. (CBSNewYork) — Ernie Els has always been one of the more popular golfers. Most golf fans are fond of the affable South African. The 45-year-old has won 67 titles including four major championships, including two U.S. Open and two British Open championships. He’s been a runner-up at the Masters twice, in 2000 and in 2004.

READ MORE: Mayor De Blasio Announces Vaccine Mandate For All New York City Municipal Workers, Including First Responders

So to watch him, or really any professional (or even amateur), six-putt on the first green in the first round — four putts from inside 2 feet — was painful.

MORE: Watch The Masters LiveLeaderboard

Els went on to card an 8-over 80 after Round 1, which considering that he had to write a 9 on his scorecard after the first hole and was 5 over par after the first hole was actually a testament to Els’ hanging in there and not completely loosing it.

And to his credit, Els talked to the media after that debacle.

“I can’t explain it,” he said. “It’s something that I’m sure up there somewhere that you just can’t do what you normally do. It’s unexplainable. A lot of people have stopped playing the game, you know. It’s unexplainable. I couldn’t get the putter back. I was standing there, I’ve got a 3-footer — I’ve made thousands of 3-footers — and I just couldn’t take it back.

“And then I just kind of lost count after — 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 2 feet.
I missed from 2 feet on 18 and a 4-footer on 17 — 6-footer when you count them up. I’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 I don’t know. We’ll see.”

READ MORE: 1 Dead, Another Injured After Police Pursuit Ends In Crash In Holtsville

When you see Els struggling like that, there are major questions that go through your mind about his future,and Els is as perplexed about it as anyone.

“I can’t explain it,” he said. “I’m not sure what I did. I don’t know how I stayed out there. But you love the game and you got to have respect for the tournament and so forth. But it’s unexplainable. It’s very tough to tell you what goes through your mind. It’s the last thing that you want to do, is do that on a golf course at this level. So it’s very difficult.”

On Friday morning, Els worked with putting instructor David Leadbetter, and hit putt after putt from 2 feet in on the practice green. Then he went out on the first hole and missed another 2-footer and ended up double-bogeying that hole.

After the double on the first hole, Els bogeyed holes 4, 7 and 17, but birdied 8, 12, 13 and 15. Els ended his 22nd Masters appearance at 9 over par for the championship. The cut line was at 6 over. But considering his poor start in both rounds 1 and 2, it’s a testament to Els that he could hold it together enough to muster up some birdies, particularly in the very gusty, tricky conditions.

Here’s hoping that Els can work through his struggles with the putter and somehow completely erase all the memories that made him feel “dead inside” as he told a reporter after Round 1.

Ernie is such a nice person, does so much for charity and his own Ernie Els Foundation, raising funds and awareness for autism. He’s a champion on and off the course, many times over.

And he’s even a bigger champion after the way he handled what must have been two very painful days at Augusta National under the microscope.

MORE NEWS: Employee Stabbed To Death At East Harlem Deli

Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori