First there came Arnie, Jack and Gary, plinking their tee shots down the first fairway Thursday morning, then picking up to let the 77th Masters play through.
Once more this tournament would ride the wake of legends.
Who might add their name to the champions’ roll? Too early to say. Too many names on the leaderboard destined to be first-round wonders. Too many others lurking who can suddenly summon excellence.
UGA’s Henley overcomes ‘nervy’ start
Russell Henley slept great last night. Said he felt fine on the practice range and while walking to the first tee. Then he stepped through the ropes onto the No. 1 tee box to the hearty applause of a gallery that surrounded him 10 rows deep.
That his tee shot ended up in a bunker right of the fairway was a minor glitch. He was pleased just to have not whiffed.
“A little nervy at the start,” said the former Georgia Bulldog and first-time Masters participant, shortly after signing for a par 72. “I walked on the tee, and I just got chills. Everybody was clapping, and it just kind of hit me all of the sudden that I’m here.”
Henley’s nerves showed as he bogeyed his first two holes of the day, but he eventually settled down. He birdied Nos. 8 and 9 to make the turn at par, birdied 15, bogeyed 17 and slammed in a 45-foot putt for par on 18.
The last hole for Henley was a microcosm of the day. He drove the ball right into the trees, left his punch-out in the rough and had his approach to the back pin spin back to the front. But after a quick look from above and below the hole, Henley slammed in his putt, which bounced an inch in the air off the back of the cup.
“I just kept telling myself over and over again, ‘I really want to make par. I want to make par,’” Henley said. “I was trying to think positive. When I walked up to my putt I said ‘I want to make this putt.’ I was just trying to reinforce myself with positive thoughts. When I do that it seems like more things happen good than not.”
Playing partner Larry Mize was impressed with what he saw.
“He’s solid,” said the 1987 Masters champion. “No. 1, his demeanor out there and his attitude and his mental game, I was very impressed. Obviously he hits the ball great. But bogeying the first two holes and coming back to shoot even-par is very impressive. He played good.”
Henley clearly was relieved to have the first round behind him. He aims to be a little less emotional in Friday’s start.
“It brought back memories of standing outside the ropes and looking in at guys (who were) getting announced,” he said. “It was like, ‘whoa, I’m the one inside now and I made it.’ I had to fight off a few tears, but I did and then I was ready to go.”
FIRST TIME AROUND
How Masters rookies did in their first trip around Augusta National (listed alphabetically):
George Coetzee; South Africa; 75;
Nicolas Colsaerts; Belgium; 74;
Jamie Donaldson; Wales; 74;
Alan Dunbar; Northern Ireland; 83;
Steven Fox; Hendersonville, Tenn.; 76;
Branden Grace; South Africa; 78;
Tianlang Guan; China; 73;
Russell Henley; Daniel Island, S.C.; 72;
John Huh; Dallas, Texas; 70;
David Lynn; England; 68;
Thorbjorn Olesen; Denmark; 78;
John Peterson; Fort Worth, Texas; 71;
Scott Piercy; Las Vegas; 75;
Ted Potter Jr.; Silver Springs, Fla.; 76;
T.J. Vogel; Cooper City, Fla.; 77;
Michael Weaver; Fresno, Calif.; 78;
Thaworn Wiratchant; Thailand; 79;
Par 3’s don’t play difficult for leaders
An old golf axiom says that making a “2” on a par-3 hole is like picking up a shot on the entire field.
And a quick look at the scorecards of the top of the leaderboard holds that axiom as at least somewhat true in the first round.
Leader Marc Leishman got his birdie on a par-3 on the 16th on his way to the top and a round of 66.
Two golfers birdied two par 3s: K.J. Choi birdied Nos. 6 and 16, and Kevin Na birdied 12 and 16. Na also eagled No. 15. “I hit the best drive I hit in here in four years, and I had 6-iron in. And I made a great putt,” Na said.
David Lynn, who shot a 68, birdied No. 12.
Jim Furyk, Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia and Tim Clark all birdied No. 6.
Among the early leaders, only Zach Johnson and Jason Day played their rounds without a “2” on their cards.
Words with … Lee Westwood
Q: How do you explain the start and what happened at No. 1?
A: Well, it was a good start well, not literally, but it’s nice, a good first round.
So, yeah, it wasn’t the ideal start, but I did manage a double bogey before in the U.S. Open last year, that sprang to mind, and I fought my way back to have a chance. So there was no panic, really. It was nice to make birdie at the second and get one back there early.
I played solidly. I played the par 5’s well, which around this golf course, any time anybody’s done well here they have played the par 5’s well.
(At No. 1) I hit it left, clipped a tree coming out, finished 50 yards short of the green, pitched it up there, the wrong side of the slope, rolled off the green, chipped it 15 feet by, I missed that… You could stand on the second tee and say, well everybody in the field is going to make a double bogey, I just got mine out of the way early.
Q: How hard was the two-putt on No. 13?
A: Yeah, the longer I looked at that putt the worse it got, really. When I hit it off, I knew it was going to be a tricky one, and I got up there and I could see putting it off the back, I could see putting it in Rae’s Creek, I mean all sorts of things. I ended up leaving it about 16, 17 feet short, but making that one. So I putted nicely today, and I made a few nice ones.
Q: How pleased are you with the up-and-down at No. 18 and could you see the flag from where you were?
A: Yeah, that was great. That was a great. … I obviously knew where it was with the camera tower. I picked a spot out. The distance rather than the line was a bit of an issue, yeah. It was a 45-yard bunker shot, I guess, it’s very awkward.
3-putts trip Bubba as defending champ
Bubba Watson left Augusta National defiant after a first-round 75 to open his defense of his championship.
The big left-hander contends he hasn’t precluded himself from a chance to become a rare repeat champion, nor is he concerned about doing so.
“I don’t need to press,” said the UGA graduate, who won in his fourth start here last year. “Even if I miss the cut, I still have a green jacket.”
The last Masters champion to successfully defend his title was Tigers Woods in 2002. Many have struggled their next time out.
Mike Weir shot 79 in 2003 and missed the cut. Watson’s was the worst first-round score for a champion since Phil Mickelson’s 76 in 2006. Only four of the nine players since Woods’ repeat have managed to break par.
Watson insisted there he felt no different negotiating the grounds as a titlist. His round was simply a function of his play and what the course would allow.
“I hit the ball really well,” he said. “I can’t complain about my ball-striking. I had four three-putts. Well, it’s really three since one was on the fringe. … But, I never got the speed right, never got the ball to the hole. (The greens) were slower than what I was expecting.”
That was a common complaint among players completing their initial 18 on Thursday. But obviously Marc Leishman (66) and others ahead of Watson were able to adjust.
Watson’s game eventually smoothed out. After carding three bogeys to shoot 38 on the front nine, only a bogey on 14 sullied his inward journey. And then the greens rose up to bite him again. After misjudging the wind on his approach, he wound up on the wrong side of the green and three-putted.
Overall, though, Watson felt he got the bugs worked out.
“I didn’t feel any more pressure,” he said. “I just didn’t get the speed right on the greens. If I two-putt all those greens, I shoot 1 under, which would be a nice score.”
Watson will need a nice score Friday.
WINNERS’ NEXT TIME OUT
Since Tiger Woods won back to back in 2001-02, there hasn’t been a repeat champ. The past 10 Masters winners and how they did in the first round as defending champion the following year and their eventual finish as defending champ:
Yr. won; Golfer; 1st rd; Finish;
2012; Bubba Watson; 75; —;
2011; Charl Schwartzel; 72; T-50;
2010; Phil Mickelson; 70; T-27;
2009; Angel Cabrera; 73; T-18;
2008; Trevor Immelman; 71; T-20;
2007; Zach Johnson; 70; T-20;
2006; Phil Mickelson; 76; T-24:
2005; Tiger Woods; 72; T-3;
2004; Phil Mickelson; 70; 10;
2003; Mike Weir; 79; MC
A special hospitality at Augusta National
There is now an exclusive place within Augusta National Golf Club that even those regular Masters patrons can’t get into.
Berckmans Place is a new corporate-hospitality development the club opened this week, and it’s hidden from course view well behind the No. 5 green on the northwest end of the property. It costs $6,000 for a week’s pass, according to Sports Business Journal. The several hundred that were made available this year essentially were all snapped up by club members and longtime “friends of the club,” mostly meaning tournament sponsors and vendors. Based on demand there probably will be more in the future.
A small, nondescript gate off a service road leads special badge-holders into an expansive lawn area and where they might be greeted by well-known club members such as former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (Monday) and NFL Hall of Famer Lynn Swann (Wednesday). The complex features a 90,000-square facility that is filled with restaurants, gift shops and memorabilia displays.
According to those have who have seen it, inside the main building are three restaurants all named after people with strong ties to Augusta National: Calamity Jane’s (name of Bobby Jones’ putter), Ike’s Southern Experience (after former President and Augusta National member Dwight Eisenhower) and MacKenzie’s Pub (for golf-course architect Alister MacKenzie). In another area, display cases feature personal effects and mementos of Jones, Eisenhower and Clifford Roberts, Augusta National’s first chairman.
Between the main building and the lofty walls separating the grounds from the golf course are three replica greens for Holes 7, 14 and 16. Slightly smaller than the real things, the pitches and slopes are said to be exactly to scale, and there are actual Augusta National caddies awaiting with putters and golf balls for patrons to give it a go.
There was no word whether patrons were finding the greens too slow, the way the pros did on the real greens Thursday.
Steve Hummer, Doug Roberson, Chip Towers and Ray Cox