19th hole: Mickelson poised for a charge


Champ talk

Yes, it’s early, but Phil Mickelson, 46, a three-time Masters champ, has positioned himself to challenge Jack Nicklaus as the oldest winner at Augusta National by a few months.

He was enthusiastic about his 1-under 71 and what lies ahead.

“I love it around here especially because the wind is going to magnify your misses, and a lot of the guys that aren’t familiar with this course and where you can go to on certain holes for certain pins will miss in the wrong spot and end up making big numbers. And because it’s, because I played here so many times and just kind of know where to go, I might miss it big, but I’ll miss it in the right spot, and I’ll have a good chance to salvage par,” he said.

Local knowledge

Russell Henley, a four-time PGA Tour winner who got into the 81st Masters by winning in Houston on Sunday, was the first off the tee in the first round Thursday, playing in conditions better suited for windmills at a miniature golf course.

Still, by keeping the flight of his ball below tree line the former University of Georgia standout seemed satisfied to shoot 1-under 71. “I felt like I could go low today,” he said. “Obviously I won last week so I was feeling confident that I could go out there and play.”

He said the only time the wind really affected one of his shots came on his second at the par-4 11th. In the fairway off the tee and standing at a point high above the green, his 200-yard approach ballooned to the right, 25 yards past the pin. He made bogey.

He said the wind was coming from the west, straight into them. He thought he hit his 5-iron solidly. “I don’t know what happened there,” he said. “It’s just tricky around those trees. Around Amen Corner it’s tough.”

His birdies came at No. 2, 4, 12, 13 and 14 with bogeys at Nos. 3, 10, 11 and 17. He just missed a birdie at 18.

Other UGA golfers: Kevin Kisner (74), two-time champ Bubba Watson (74), Hudson Swafford (77).

Georgia Tech golfers: Matt Kuchar (72), Larry Mize (74), Roberto Castro (79).

At the course

  • Falcons Pro Bowl pass rusher Vic Beasley Jr. in the gallery at No. 2 when Phil Mickelson eagled the par-5 just after noon.
  • Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, an Augusta National member, in her green jacket, riding in a golf cart and furiously typing away on an electronic device.

Numerology

4

The No. 1 ranked players who have missed major championships because of injury: Dustin Johnson (2017 Masters, back), Rory McIlroy (2015 Open, ankle), Greg Norman (1988 Open, wrist) and Tiger Woods, who missed the 2014 Masters (back surgery), the 2008 Open (ACL surgery) and the 2008 PGA Championship (ACL surgery).

Senior moment

Champions Tour star and 1992 Masters champ Fred Couples on his 1-over 73: “I don’t want it to be like this for four days, if I’m here four days. But it was good to have it really blowing hard for me because I felt like I’m not hitting it great. And if it was calm and nice, a 73 or (74) would be not a very good score. … I’m now learning, this is a long, hard course for me.”

He said it

“I could have accepted five (bogey) at the last, but a little ticked off about making six (double bogey). Other than that, it’s a decent day. … I love playing in the wind, this golf course is fun to play, you got to hit shots and quality golf shots especially in the wind, so the tournament’s far from over.” — Rickie Fowler, arguably the best player yet to win a major after a round of 1-over 73.

Forecast

Mostly sunny and breezy with a high of 64 degrees. Winds will be at 15 mph, with gusts to 20 mph, so the field should find it comparatively easier than Thursday. The weekend forecast — perfect temperatures, little wind — might as well include a 36-hole shootout for those within hailing distance of the lead after Friday’s round.



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