Jordan Spieth Leads After Dramatic Opening Day at Masters
SERGIO GARCIA’S defence of The Masters came to a heartbreaking and shattering end at the 15th hole at Augusta National. He came to the par five just two over par and in half decent shape. He walked off the green 10 over par, his dream of winning back-to-back titles drowned in the water guarding the green, where he had dumped five golf balls. The hole cost him a 13, the worst score ever recorded there in the history of the tournament. The last time he played the hole, on his way to winning the Green Jacket 12 months ago, he reduced it to three shots.
After all that, he birdied the 16th. Golf can be a cruel and unforgiving game. He eventually signed for a round of 81 and will need a minor miracle to make the cut. It was a day when the course was the real winner. As Henrik Stenson, who shot a 69, said: “It is fiendishly difficult."
Former champion Jordan Spieth, who found some form at the Houston Open last week, kept it going and opened with a round of 66. Tony Finau, one of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour, produced a magnificent round of 68 after recovering from an ankle injury that looked to have ruled him out. Rory McIlroy played some fine golf on his way to a 69, while Justin Rose, fancied by many to win here this week, had a 72 and Phil Mickelson a 70.
And, inevitably perhaps, it wasn’t the first round that we hoped it would be for Tiger Woods either. After all the hype, all the expectation, his return to Augusta ended with a disappointing first round of 73 that, in truth, could have been an awful lot worse. It was a score that was later matched by two-time champion Bubba Watson. On a glorious spring day, with not a cloud in the sky and the temperature around 72F, the course turned out to be the winner, with nobody mastering it – not for the first time.
“I played well but made a few mistakes and I didn’t take care of the par fives. That was not very good at all,” Woods said. “I hit every club in the bag today and the wind was swirling about. But it feels great to be back playing in a major again. The reception I got was incredible. I got a couple of standing ovations. The way people have been with me leaves me lost for words. I am just so grateful to be out here playing again."
He drove the ball well enough for much of the day, but his iron play was average at best and he simply didn’t give himself enough birdie opportunities. After pars at the first and second, Woods picked up a birdie at the third and it looked like his challenge was off and running, but it was not to be. He dropped shots at the fourth and fifth and reached the turn in 37, thanks to some fine par-saving putts.
He made a great par save at the 10th but then hit a wild drive at the 11th, missing the fairway on the right side. He had no shot and was unable to make the green in two. The result was another bogey. And it got worse. The short par-three 12th has ended the hopes of many players over the years – it was where Jordan Spieth ran up a seven two years ago while leading the tournament. Woods came up short and looked on in disgust as his tee shot finished in the water. He trudged to the drop zone and almost put his third shot in the bunker guarding the front of the green. But, Woods being Woods, he promptly holed the putt to walk off the green with a bogey and had fallen back to three over par. This was not what he had in mind and it certainly wasn’t what the Augusta patrons had come to see.
The biggest disappointment was that he had been unable to take advantage of the par fives. And things didn’t improve at the 13th, perhaps the easiest par five on the course. Another errant drive finished in the pine straw to the right of the fairway, making it impossible for him to go for the green in two. If he was going to save something from this round, the 13th and 15th holes were the key, and he needed to birdie them both. He had to settle for another par at the 13th, and the 15th was a repeat performance, another wayward drive leading to yet another par. In between, however, he did manage to find a birdie at the 14th to get him back to two over. And he sent the huge galleries wild when he birdied the par-three 16th. At one over par he was hanging on.
A birdie chance at the 17th dribbled by but he hit a magnificent drive at the final hole that gave him hope he could end the day with another birdie. He had to settle for a par though.
Australia’s Marc Leishman, playing with Woods and England’s Tommy Fleetwood, made serene progress. He birdied the second, third and seventh to turn in 33 and was three under after 12 holes. And it could quite easily have been three or four shots better. A succession of glorious iron shots went unrewarded as he shaved the hole several times. It did get better with a birdie at the 13th but it all came to a juddering halt at the 15th, Through the green in two, he pitched his third shot into Rae’s Creek and it cost him a seven and took him back to two under.
While all of this was going on, there was some fabulous going being played. Spieth birdied the first two holes and then holed a 12-footer to save par at the third. McIlroy opened with a birdie. And Stenson was having a ball. He birdied the fourth, seventh, 11th and 13th to move to four under par and, all of a sudden, he was looking down on everybody else. Augusta doesn’t like being made to look foolish though and a shot went at the next. At three under, he was tied with Adam Hadwin and Charley Hoffman, who was the first-round leader 12 months ago.
Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger was safely in the clubhouse after a 70, a single shot better than 55-year-old Vijay Singh, a former champion here. Zach Johnson, another former champion, also managed a 70. Fleetwood had struggled for much of his round until birdies at the 15th, 16th and 17th holes turned everything around and took him to one under par. A dropped shot at the last meant he finished with a 72, which was two shots worse than Lieshman, who made a brilliant par at the 18th after driving into the trees.
Hoffman took the lead on his own with a birdie at the 14th to move to four under, but was soon joined by Stenson, who birdied the 15th. He would drop a shot at the final hole but was the first man to break 70. Finau, who dislocated his ankle during the Par 3 Contest, made a remarkable recovery. Not only did he make it to the first tee, but he covered the front nine in 33, three under par.
McIlroy missed a couple of good birdie chances and then fell back to level par when he dropped his first shot of the day at the seventh, but he promptly got it straight back at the next. He should also have birdied the 10th but missed a straightforward uphill putt from no more than eight feet. His next birdie came at the 13th, by which time he was two under.
Meanwhile, Hadwin was next to make it to four under, with birdies at the 15th and 16th holes. Spieth dropped a couple of shots but got his round back on track in spectacular style with an eagle at the par-five eighth. A series of pars followed until he birdied the 13th to become the latest to go three under. There were plenty of birdies and eagles being made, but there were also plenty of mistakes.
Hoffman and Hadwin, playing together, both dropped shots at the 18th to join Stenson on 69, alongside Patrick Reed, who drove the ball superbly To put this in perspective, Woods was only four shots behind. At this stage, Finau led the way on four under. Stenson summed it up. “This course is scary hard. You just can’t appreciate it on television. If you get your ball even a fraction of an inch in the wrong place you can end up with no shot at all.” Haotong Li, a winner on the European Tour, joined them when he birdied the 15th. And the young Chinese golfer moved to four under after a brilliant tee shot at the par-three 16th. Five birdies in six holes had transformed his round. But, like so many others before him, he found trouble at the 18th, dropped a shot and signed for yet another 69. Finau came to the 18th on four under and produced a great up and down to stay that way and sign for a 68.
Phil Mickelson was having the sort of round that only he can play, a mixture of brilliant play and some downright awful golf. By the time he walked off the 10th green he was level par. He had birdied three holes, bogeyed three and parred four. As is the way of things with Lefty, some of his shots were played from places few human beings have ever visited. And the 11th summed up his entire round. He hit a shocking drive that found the undergrowth and somehow managed to gouge the ball back into play. From there he hit a wedge to the heart of the green, leaving himself with a chance of rescuing a highly unlikely par. It was not to be. He was one over until a birdie at the 15th and another at the 16th.
Spare a thought for English amateur Harry Ellis. He opened his round with a double bogey and had two more, together with a triple-bogey seven at the 10th and staggered off the 18th green after taking 86 gruesome strokes, with not a single birdie on his card. Contrast that with the fortunes of another amateur, Doug Ghim, who holed his approach to the last hole for a 72. It’s a funny old game right enough.
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