Big meltdown for the Big Easy at Augusta

Ernie Els was two feet from a par to start the Masters.


Twenty-four measly inches.

Then, the unimaginable happened.

One miss. And another. And another. And another. And another.

This from a guy who has won four major titles.

Finally, on his sixth putt – a one-handed swat that showed his total disgust – Els finished off a quintuple-bogey nine that essentially ruined any hope of contending for a green jacket on the very first hole Thursday.

Talk about a hard one to take for the Big Easy.

“I can’t explain it,” said Els, who went on to shoot an 8-over 80 that matched his highest score ever at Augusta National.

It left him a whopping 14 shots behind leader Jordan Spieth.

“You’re not able to do what you normally do. It’s unexplainable.”

The nine was the worst score ever posted at No.1.

Making the whole scene downright surreal, none of the putts appeared longer than four feet.

Els just kept knocking the ball back and forth past the cup, totally bedeviled by not only the slick Augusta greens, but basically a meltdown in his mental approach.

He missed so many times, the score was initially recorded as a 10 instead of a nine.

It was easy to lose count. Even Els wasn’t quite sure how many times he putted.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen anything like that,” said Jason Day, who was playing with Els.

“You don’t want to see any player go through something like that. It can be sometimes career-ending for guys like that if they really are fighting it that much.”

Even Els was left questioning his game.

“I can’t get the putter to go back,” Els said.

“I’m not sure where I go from here.

“It wouldn’t matter if I putted with a stick. When snakes are going off in your brain, it’s difficult.”

His only highlight with the putter was a 40-foot birdie at the fifth.

Compare that to a year ago, when he opened the Masters with a five-under 67 that left him only three strokes behind eventual winner Spieth.

There was no chance of him shooting a 67 this time around.