The first of four days is complete at the world’s most famous golf tournament, as Bill Haas leads after the opening round at the Masters. With 54 holes to play, we’re still far too early into this to have any real idea of what will happen on Sunday, but here are some takeaways from the first day at Augusta National.
The Tiger Woods effect
Whether you like it or not, the big story coming into the Masters was that thanks to a back injury, Tiger Woods was going to miss the tournament for the first time since 1994. Outside of a few people suggesting that it just wasn’t the same without the world’s most recognizable player, the broadcast itself seemed to shine without him, as without him in the field, ESPN had to focus on the other players on the course. In fact, he was barely even mentioned at all during the broadcast. If there was one tournament that could not even be remotely bothered by his absence, it’s this one. The Masters is always special, and Tiger Woods not being there won’t change that.
When the Augusta area was hit with a terrible ice storm a few months ago, everyone focused on the extensive damage that happened to the Eisenhower Tree on 17. The damage was so bad that the tree had to be cut down, but there wasn’t much talk about what the rest of the course looked like until a few weeks ago when Peter Hanson played a practice round and suggested that things weren’t looking like they usually do, with bits of trees everywhere and most of the gardened areas destroyed. These details were confirmed this afternoon when Jordan Spieth said that he saw a pretty rough course in one of his own practice rounds, but sure enough when the tournament started today, it was in immaculate shape as always. One side note on the 17th: the story of the Eisenhower Tree is a great one, but in all honesty, the hole is much better now without it there, in my opinion.
Rory McIlroy: “They set the golf course up very difficult for a Thursday.”
Typically, golf courses are set up to get more difficult as the week goes on, and I’m sure that it’s going to play tough over the next few days as well, but Rory was right when you look at the way that Augusta National was set up today. See the pin sheet from today:
There just isn’t a whole lot that you can do with some of those pins being tucked in the way they were, and especially with the wind picking up for the afternoon wave, it made scoring pretty difficult for the players. David Feherty’s comment towards the end of the broadcast was true as well, that the players probably needed the fairways to be a little more dry for them to get more spin on their approaches. The problem now is that once the course dries out a little more over the next few days, they’ll get more spin, but the greens are going to be too firm for those shots to hold, especially if the pins are going to be difficult. This is going to be very interesting to watch going forward.
Adam Scott’s strong start
It didn’t look great on the first tee, as Scott sent his drive right and into the trees, but he quickly rebounded from that position to make a miraculous opening birdie. Scott’s trying to join Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods as the only men to repeat as champion, and outside of a couple of instances where the putter looked a little loose, Scott is in a great position to join that group. Remember that he shot 69 last year in his opening round as well.
Fuzzy Zoeller was the last player to win this tournament in his first ever appearance back in 1979, but there was some thought that we could see that change this year with not only the amount of players who were making their maiden trip, but also because of the quality of those players. Through eighteen holes, there are several first timers who are near the top of the board, with Kevin Stadler, Jonas Blixt, Jimmy Walker and Jordan Spieth all under par after the first round. Patrick Reed was looking good as well before three bogeys in his final three holes sent him to 1-over par.
Augusta National is one of the most difficult courses in the world without question, and like I mentioned above, it’s even more difficult when it’s set up the way that it was today, but there were still some pretty surprising struggles from players that were expected to do well this week. Phil Mickelson, Jason Day, Keegan Bradley, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Angel Cabrera and Zach Johnson never got it going today. Jason Dufner fired an 80 with a back nine 44, and Branden Grace went 41-43 to end up in last place. The average score today was about 2.5 strokes over par, and nowhere was that more apparent than the par-3 12th, which is no more than a stock 8-iron for the pros these days, but so many balls ended up short in Rae’s Creek today, especially once the wind picked up. It’s never as easy as it looks.