Is it just me, or does Augusta National get more and more beautiful each year? For the first time ever I’m finally seeing the rich green texture of lush fairways and the vibrant colors of the Azaleas courtesy of high-def. Even the water running through Rae’s Creek looks potable…. I bet they could bottle that and sell it for a pretty penny.
Anywho, the first day thoughts are in order.
And there’s no better place to start than with the kid from the only place on earth where the grass might possibly be greener than where he is this week, and that’s none other than Ireland’s own Rory McIlroy. The young lad showed signs of absolute brilliance Thursday, resembling the form from his incredible final round victory of 10-under 62 at Quail Hollow last season. But Sean Martin over at GolfWeek reminds us that this isn’t the first time that the young lad has put up a wonderful number, only to stumble badly the next day. Of course, he’s talking about McIlroy’s opening round of 63 at St. Andrews in the Open Championship last summer, and his subsequent 17-shot swing for a score of 80 the very next day. Obviously the conditions Friday at Augusta will be nothing like what the field faced that Friday in the Open Championship, but nevertheless – it’s not easy following up a great round of golf in the majors. “I’ll be thinking about it and I’ll be thinking about how I can do things better tomorrow than I did that day,” he said. “So if I do find myself in a bit of trouble, I’m going to have to stick in there, grind it out, and that’s something that I feel as if I learned to do at St. Andrews.”
But as good as McIlroy’s round on Thursday was, it would be matched by a long hitting Spaniard who reminded us precisely why the folks at Augusta National felt it necessary to stretch the course another 300 yards or so over the past several years. But as impressive as Alvaro Quiros’ enormous length off the tee might have been on Thursday, so to was his performance on the greens with the putter. Quiros nearly birdied half the holes in his opening round, carding 8 total…. Only one blemish on the card came as a result of a bogey on the 440yd par4 14th. But despite the lone bogey he still managed 4-under on the back, thanks to a brilliant approach shot to 5 feet on the 18th for birdie. His opening round of 7-under 65 puts him tied atop the leaderboard with McIlroy heading into Friday, and 10 strokes better than his prior best-ever score at Augusta.
The Rest of the Leaderboard
McIlroy and Quiros weren’t the only players to take advantage of excellent scoring conditions on Thursday, as the wind was almost nonexistent for the most part in the opening round. In all, 30 players managed under-par rounds on Day 1 at Augusta. Here’s a quick look at the rest of the top 10 after the first round.
T3 – Y.E. Yang & K.J. Choi – 5-under 67
T5 – Matt Kuchar & Rickie Barnes – 4-under 68
T7 – Ross Fisher, Brandt Snedeker, Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel, Trevor Immelman, Geoff Ogilvy, Gary Woodland – 3-under 69
How the top 10 in the OWGR are Faring:
#1 Martin Kaymer – Not good, as in most likely needing a miracle to see the weekend. +6 on Thursday and continues to struggle at Augusta.
#2 Lee Westwood – Tough opening round, 4 birdies, 4 bogeys. Level par and 7 shots off the lead heading into Friday.
#3 Phil Mickelson – 2-under 70 doesn’t sound all that impressive, until you consider he only found 4 fairways on the round. Maybe he should’ve carried 2 drivers…
#4 Luke Donald – Did very little to disprove the Par3 Contest Jinx on Thursday. 5 bogeys, 3 birdies, 1 eagle… Feast or famine type round.
#5 Graeme McDowell – Missed the cut in 2010, and will need to post a red number Friday to avoid missing the cut this time around. +2 in his opening round.
#6 Paul Casey – Carded 6 birdies, but unfortunately gave 4 shots back with bogeys. 2-under keeps him somewhere within reach heading into Friday.
#7 Tiger Woods – Average…. 3 birdies, 2 bogeys, 1-under par on Thursday. Remember that song, “This used to be my playground” by Madonna? He’s singing it…
#8 Steve Stricker – Level par on Thursday, 7 shots back. One would think that one of the best putters on tour would have a distinct advantage in this tourney….
#9 Rory McIlroy – We’re talking dream round… 7-under 65. can he keep things in perspective over the next 3 days and not get ahead of himself? If so, I love his chances.
#10 Matt Kuchar – Nice start for Kooch, 4-under 68. If he can do this 3 more times, I’m guessing he will be the guy in Butler Cabin Sunday evening.
The final pairing of Quiros, Vegas, and Woodland was a treat to watch on Thursday, kudos to the Masters tournament committee for giving us that pairing…. Friday will be a crucial day for those over-par, and all eyes will be on the top 4 names on the leaderboard as it relates to the 10-stroke margin in effect this week. The temps are supposed to warm up dramatically over the next 3 days, and the scores will most likely reflect that. As the course dries out and firms up, I suspect that rounds of 3-under par will be very good, especially if the wind kicks up, which is always the case. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some more low scores on Friday, but I think that changes come the weekend.
All in all, a very entertaining first day at Augusta National.