Els' red letter day as hole in one licks the Postage Stamp

In America they would have shouted "get in the hole" and for once it wouldn't have sounded completely absurd. What Ernie Els delivered at the Postage Stamp was a collector's item, the purest and luckiest shot in golf.

In America they would have shouted "get in the hole" and for once it wouldn't have sounded completely absurd. What Ernie Els delivered at the Postage Stamp was a collector's item, the purest and luckiest shot in golf.

The Big Easy hit the leaderboard with a hole in one during the first round of the 133rd Open Championship.

"That was beautiful, I tell you," Els said. "I was actually thinking of hitting a nine-iron and Ricky [his caddy Ricky Roberts] talked me into hitting a wedge. I hit it really solid and I was just saying to the ball 'get up, get up, get up'.

"It bounced nice and hard and it had a lot of check on it. From the tee it looked like it stopped and went in from the front but I saw it on a television monitor and it actually went in from the back of the hole. It was definitely enough club."

The ace may not have been the shot that rang around the world but it echoed all over the old Ayrshire links as Els exchanged high fives with his playing partners, Justin Leonard and Luke Donald. It also, of course, raised the echo of Gene Sarazen's hole in one at the eighth at the Open here in 1973.

There are several subtle differences between Sarazen's achievement and that of Els. Thirty-one years ago the American was the oldest player in the field at 71, his age matching the par for Troon. As far as Sarazen is concerned he may have been playing a Penny Black. Els made his putter redundant yesterday by flicking a wedge straight into the hole; Sarazen's choice of the perfect club was a five-iron.

Seven years ago the Postage Stamp had an average score of 3.17 and was rated the seventh most difficult on the course although Dennis Edlund, of Sweden, aced the eighth during the second round. What course designers can learn from the hole is that a par three does not have to measure more than 200 yards to present a challenge. For spectators the Postage Stamp, thronged by a large crowd yesterday, remained a top attraction.

In the 1997 Open for Tiger Woods it was a case of return to sender. He found the back right bunker, the smallest of five traps strategically placed around the narrow green. Two shots in that Tiger trap followed by three putts and Woods posted a triple-bogey six at the eighth and he admitted later that it had effectively ended his championship hopes.

Yesterday Woods almost emulated Els, his ball flirting with the cup before finishing several feet away but he made the putt for a birdie two. He was not alone.

Royal Troon was there for the taking although Woods and Els did not fully exploit the benign conditions. The average score on the Postage Stamp in the first round was less than the par of three and there were far more birdies than bogeys.

The highest score was a quadruple bogey seven by Mark Foster but even that was extremely respectable compared to the score registered at the eighth by Hermann Tissies, a German amateur. He went from bunker to bunker, with the green looking like a pinball machine. By the time Hermann eventually got the ball into the hole he had racked up a score of 15.

The leaders yesterday did not need an abacus to work out their scores on the shortest hole, at 123 yards, in championship golf. Paul Casey, whose tee shot finished a couple of feet from the flag and Thomas Levet both had birdie twos there en route to 66.

Darren Clarke hit a nine-iron to two feet for his two before Troon exacted a measure of revenge at the 18th where the Irishman went out of bounds.

Els too discovered the course could take as well as give. The South African was four under par playing the 17th, a par three of 222 yards, where he hit a poor tee shot, failed to get out of a bunker at his first attempt and took a double-bogey five.

"I didn't feel good after that," he said. "I had a pretty nice round going and then on 17 I pulled a five-iron left. I had a bit of a downhill lie in the bunker but it wasn't the most difficult shot I've had in my life and I just messed it up. From such a highlight on number eight to such a lowlight on 17 is amazing.

"The conditions were perfect. There was a slight breeze helping us on the front nine and it was just really nice. I haven't seen it that good for quite a few years and although I shot 69 I feel I left some out there." Els thought it was the seventh ace of his career, the second in a major championship. "It doesn't really matter does it?" It would if you won by one, he was reminded. "Yeah, that's true," he said.

The tradition for the perpetrator of the hole in one is to buy everybody a drink in the clubhouse bar. Els took a rain check.

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