Coming into this week’s Masters, Lee Westwood had never led a major championship after the opening round. But after a flawless round of 5-under 67 on Thursday, that career stat no longer exists. While most of the attention centered around the early struggles of pre-tournament favorites Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, Westwood went into stealth mode and flew quietly and brilliantly under the radar, carding 4 consecutive birdies on holes 5 thru 8, going out in 4-under 32. He would make his 2nd bogey after coming up short on his approach at the par4 10th, but picked up birdies on the par5 13th and the par4 17th to come in at 1-under 35, 5-under for the day’s low round of 67. It also marked the 8th time in his last 9 rounds at Augusta that he’s shot par or better. “Yeah, I played well today, and I’ve been playing well all year and I just tried to continue with that,” Westwood said. “This is a golf course that I love playing. It seems to suit my game. I hit a lot of fairways. I hit pretty much every fairway and 16 greens in regulation and rolled a few nice putts in from sort of five to ten feet, which, you know, when you’re hitting it close a lot is productive.”
One shot back of Westwood is Louis Oosthuizen, who birdied 4 of his final 5 holes on Thursday to post an opening round of 4-under 68. Oosthuizen comes into this week’s Masters in good form, playing well last week at the Shell Houston Open where he finished solo 3rd, and was just wanting to keep his momentum going heading into Augusta this week. “Well, I played well the whole week last week, I felt like I played well on the Sunday. Hit a few bad shots which cost me the front nine. But you know, I had a strong finish, and I think it was important to have that finish on the back nine to just come in here with a positive mind‑set,” he said. “Yeah, I felt confident Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday practicing out here, and just hitting the ball well. There’s still a long way to go, but feel good.” Oosthuizen is tied with Peter Hanson, who also rebounded with a solid back-nine of 3-under 33 to get to 4-under on Thursday.
The European Trio of Miguel Angel Jimenez, Paul Lawrie and Francesco Molinari share a 6-way tie for 4th with Americans Bubba Watson, Ben Crane, and Jason Dufner, each at 3-under par.
Thursday’s Not-So Heavyweights
The anticipation that continued to build from January onward was warranted, given that all three have already won this season. But the opening round was anything but routine for Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and Phil Mickelson on Thursday, as the best round between the three was a 1-under 71. Woods managed what he himself considered a “best-case” round of level par on the day, noting that his indifferent morning warmup session prior to his round didn’t exactly inspire confidence, as he found himself stuck between the swing he’s spent the last 2 seasons trying to forget and the swing that stood up under the pressure to win two weeks ago at Bay Hill. “Today I squeezed a lot out of that round, didn’t hit it very good at all. Warmed up bad, too, and it continued on the golf course,” Woods said. “I just felt my way around today. I really grinded, stayed very present. And you know, I know how to play this golf course. I think it’s just understanding what I need to do.” Despite his struggles, Woods scrambled his way around Augusta to the tune of even-par and given where he hit the ball on Thursday – there was something worth hanging his hat on. “Absolutely. I didn’t warm up well. I hit a few loose ones, but I said just stay committed. Whatever happens, just stay committed on each and every shot and I did that. I really stayed committed to what I was doing,” he said. “I made some bad swings. That’s fine. My commitment to each and every shot, what I was doing, my alignment, my setup, everything was something that I’m excited about and I can take some positives going into tomorrow about that. Granted, it might be late tomorrow, but at least I have something to build on.”
Tiger’s struggles on Thursday paled in comparison to those of Phil Mickelson’s, who carded a triple bogey on the par4 10th after slicing his tee shot so far left that not even 200+ patrons from the gallery could find it. It was that kind of day for Mickelson, a day that revealed just as many sloppy decisions as bad swings. “I thought that, you know, throughout the round on the front nine, I hit three or four shots in spots ‑ I missed it where I know I can’t miss it. And strategically made some mistakes. I made some execution mistakes and then I made a very poor swing on 10,” he said. “I knew walking off 10 green at 4‑over I wasn’t going to get them all back before the round was through, but if I could just get a couple back, I felt like I could get some back on the falling day. So the key was getting through 11 and 12 and make some pars, taking advantage of the par 5s. I got two of them back coming in, so as poorly as I played and some of the poor shots I hit and the mishaps, missing on the wrong spot, I’m right there.” Where “right there” might be is anyone’s best guess, but another round like the one he had on Thursday will all but remove the need to make more room in his closet for another Green Jacket.
Taking a double bogey on the opening hole on Thursday wasn’t exactly the start that Rory McIlroy had in mind, but a birdie on the very next hole settled his nerves a bit, and birdies on holes 8 and 9 put him in a good spot heading to the back. But a bogey on the par4 11th, followed by a very sloppy bogey on the par5 13th, courtesy of Rae’s creek, took him back to +1 on the day, and things started looking shaky once again. But as has been his mantra since his infamous final round at this tournament last year, the young lad stayed patient and refused to press. He was rewarded with closing birdies on the final two holes to get his round back to red numbers, shooting 1-under 71 on the day. “Yeah, of course it’s a nice way to finish, obviously. You know, it would have been – I felt like there was enough good shots in there to be positive over the next three days,” McIlroy said. “I need to drive the ball in the fairway a little bit more, and I feel like if I can drive the ball in the fairway more, I can take advantage of that. That will be the key for me the next three days.”
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For ESPN’s recap of Thursday’s action at the 2012 Masters, click HERE.