South African Ernie Els fired a majestic 12 under par round of 60 to open his defence of the Heineken Classic at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, Victoria, Australia. The 2003 Volvo Order of Merit winner threatened to break the 60 barrier, but a dropped shot at the 15th meant that the first 59 on The European Tour International Schedule remains frustratingly elusive.
There have now been 13 rounds of 60 recorded on The European Tour – although Welshman Bradley Dredge’s score in Madeira last year was not official due to preferred lies – and Els savoured the experience of shooting the lowest score of his career on one of the world’s greatest courses.
"I had it on my mind all the way through. I hit some really good shots on the front nine, got that eagle to finish the front nine on seven-under (29) and I was trying hard to get to 59, which I have never done," said Els, who broke the course record by two strokes.
"I felt more pressure on those last four holes than I have felt in a long time trying to win a golf tournament. It was definitely playing on my mind. I came close and who knows when you are going to have a chance like this again?"
Al Geiberger was the first man to achieve the feat, shooting 59 at the Memphis Classic in 1977 on the US PGA Tour; followed by Chip Beck at the Las Vegas Invitational in 1991 and David Duval at the 1999 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.
Women's World Number One Annika Sorenstam became the first player on the LPGA Tour to score a 59 in a tournament at the Moon Valley Country Club, Phoenix in 2001.
After Els had covered the front nine today in just 29 strokes, it was apparent something special was possible. The 34 year old, seeking his third successive Heineken Classic over the Royal Melbourne course, then reeled off five successive birdies from the turn to climb to 12 under par.
However just when the magical 59 loomed into sight, Els bogeyed the 15th – his only dropped shot – before birdieing the 16th to move back to 12 under again. He could not fashion another and finished with consecutive pars to signed for a wonderful 60.
"I went with a two iron there and it went through the fairway," he said, discussing his bogey on the 15th. "I didn't have a terrible lie but where the flag was I couldn't really get a shot in there to spin the ball. I caught a flier that went right through the green. It is one of those things."
Nevertheless, Els took just 25 putts and made 17 out of 18 greens in regulation to become only the sixth man on the European Tour to card a 60 on a par 72 course.
He beat his own previous best round of 61, shot at the Dubai Desert Classic in 1994, and not surprisingly - created a new course record at Royal Melbourne.
Els holds a four shot lead over New Zealand's Michael Campbell, who had scored a superb round of 64 which would, in other circumstances, have been a worthy leading score. Australian Craig Carmichael lies third along with European Tour winner, Tobias Dier of Germany, another Australian, Wade Ormsby and Kiwi Mahal Pearce.
Campbell, himself a two-time winner of the event, set the early pace only five weeks after undergoing surgery to correct varicose veins. He said: "After the operation it is nice to come out strong. When you are playing well your mindset is positive about everything. Apparently it was hot out there today, but I did not feel it.
"The leg was a little bit sore out there, but not too bad. It is a kind of numb feeling on the inside left thigh. It was hurting towards the end but nothing serious."