Live from The Masters - Thursday Roundup
"I think Augusta National was the winner today," mused Colin Montgomerie after Thursday's testing opening round of the Masters.
I don't often agree with the words which billow so freely from dear old Monty's mouth, but today's assessment was spot on. Just 19 of the 97-strong field finished under par or on a day where birdies were rare and bogeys in vogue. The past three Major winners – Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson, and Jason Dufner – finished a combined 14 over par.
"When I saw the pin positions I thought they didn't want people to get too many under par," Rory McIlroy said after posting a 1-under 71.
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@garyplayer: "Early morning off to the course. An honour to kick off @The_Masters with Jack & Arnie. Only 1 shot. Counting on blasting it long & straight."
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The last time Dufner played in a Major championship, he hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy at Oak Hill Country Club following his victory at the PGA Championship. It wasn't quite the same feeling on Thursday.
Dufner shot an 8-over round of 80 that included a 9 at the par-5 13th. His quad was still four shots shy of Tommy Nakajima's record 13 on the hole dubbed "Azalea" at the 1978 Masters. Mickelson's ball also took a swim on 15 as he racked up a 76; his worst opening round at the Masters since 1997.
Even those who stayed straight weren't spared from punishment. Japan's Hideki Matsuyama joined Dufner in the 80 club - despite hitting every fairway. The 22-year-old phenom fell victim to Augusta's ice rink-like greens, needing 39 putts for the round.
"The course is perfection and it asks perfection," Sir Nick Faldo once said of the Augusta layout. Bubba Watson was only player to go bogey-free on Thursday, holing three birdies en route to a 69. The 2011 winner sits alongside defending champion Adam Scott and 2010 Open champ Louis Oosthuizen, the trio trailing leader Bill Haas by one shot.
As always, the gallery enjoyed what Tiger Woods described "one of the oldest and best traditions in the game." Shortly after 7am, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus got the tournament underway with their ceremonial tee shots. All three hit the middle of the fairway (would you expect anything less), with the Golden Bear outdriving the Black Knight by a couple of yards for bragging rights.
"But it's not bad when you think he used to outdrive my by 50," Player said. "But he did hit on a sprinkler. You didn't see that?"
It turned out to be a fair day for the over fifties, with two of the most experienced - and coolest - men on the course winding back the hourglass. Fred Couples continued his affinity with Augusta (he's finished in the top 15 every year since 2010) ending the day alongside Champions Tour-bound Miguel Angel Jimenez at 1-under. One punter Tweeted: "Three things are certain in life: death, taxes, and Freddy playing like a boss the first two days of the Masters."
The year Couples celebrated his 34th birthday, Jordan Spieth and Matteo Manassero were born. The 20-year-olds will start Friday's round level with the 1992 Masters champion after posting rounds of 71 in their Augusta debuts.
But the pair will have to defy recent history if they're to earn a spot alongside Couples in the Champions Locker this year; no Augusta rookie has savoured Masters victory since Fuzzy Zoeller defeated Ed Sneed and Tom Watson in a play-off in 1979.
Why exactly is Augusta so unkind to newcomers? "I can't think of another course in the world that the more you play, the more you learn," according to Jim Furyk.
STAT / PLAYER OF THE DAY
Each of the past eight Masters winners were within four shots of the lead after round one. There are currently 29 players within four of Haas.
|Still got it: Fred Couples||No.13 ... scene of Jason Dufner's quad||
Matteo Manassero impresses in his