It didn’t long after the restart of the Champions Tour season for Ernie Els’ bar tab to grow.
Els, who has a win and a place in his previous three Champions Tour starts, wasn’t particularly pleased with his opening round at Warwick Hills G&CC as part of the Ally Challenge, the senior tour’s first event back after the pandemic stop.
But on his next-to-last hole of the day, Els turned his fortunes around, dropping a hole in one — his first in two years and the 17th of his career — at the course near Flint.
“Ricci (Roberts), my caddy, said, ‘you know, that was a nice golf swing,’ ” Els said. “The ball was in the air and the next thing, it was in the hole.”
Els finished the day at 3-under, just three shots behind leaders Billy Andrade and Tommy Armour III.
Andrade got hot on the back nine en route to the top of the leaderboard. He shot a 32 after the turn, burying birdies on Nos. 10, 13, 14 and 15. Although he insisted that he had been practicing in advance of the trip to Michigan, Andrade said it took the realization that the Champions Tour was returning to get his competitive juices flowing.
“Well, I think the biggest thing was the first two or three months,
there was no starting point really. And once we knew, OK, hey, we’re going to start at the Ally Challenge, we hope, OK, so now you have a starting point and then you can start vamping up your practice. But we’re over 50. It’s not like we are practicing a ton. But it’s nice to have a goal to work towards versus when this pandemic started,” Andrade said. “It’s like we are definitely not playing, so it’s very, I think very difficult for professionals to get jazzed up to go out and play if you have nothing to work for. You know what I’m saying?
“So I think once we knew we were coming here, we were so excited, let’s get this thing started, let’s get the ball rolling. And I think all of us are really, really excited about being here and getting back into playing again.”
Bernhard Langer, Wes Short, Jr. and Tom Gillis are tied at 5 under while Jim Furyk is 4 under in his first Champions Tour event.