- Rory McIlroy has turned spiritual in search for elusive Masters – but struggles for consistency in tricky opening round
A rather flat start gave way to an extraordinary finish to the first day of the 83rd Masters here as Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau stole a march on their rivals with a stunning pair of 66s.
DeChambeau delivered the highlight when almost holing his approach on the 18th from 195 yards. His ball ran up to the hole and tapped itself gently against the pin, but refused to fall. DeChambeau laughed at the irony of it (as “the Mad Scientist” he has insisted that it makes sense to leave in the flag). At least it gave him a share of the overnight lead and a two-shot advantage.
We should hardly have been surprised that it was Brooks Koepka who joined the 24-year-old to separate themselves from the field. Because for the last couple of years, this remarkable 28-year-old has been putting daylight between him and his rivals in the majors.
Koepka came in having won three of the last six majors in which he has played, but still he only scraped into the top 10 of the betting. How absurd those odds appear now that he has a two-shot advantage following his 65. The world No4 – that number seems a bit daft as well – recorded the only bogey-free round. England’s Ian Poulter is in a tie for third with yet another two home heroes in Dustin Johnson and three-time champion Phil Mickelson.
Credit to Poulter for sticking with the late starred-and-striped brigade as they lit up an opening that had earlier been defined by Augusta National taking the upper hand over professionals who apparently could not take advantage of the soft conditions. It actually became windier as the day went on, but so Koepka and DeChambeau put on their show. Poulter was magnificent for his 68 which is best ever Masters start, and was understandably delighted afterwards.
“I played great today. It is always nice to get off to a decent start,” Poulter said. “I read somewhere there is a three percent chance of a 43-year-old winning here this week. I have got nothing to lose. Tee to green I kept giving myself a lot of chances. I feel comfortable around this golf course. I know what I have to do and where I have to hit it.”
There is a quality group on three-under, too, with the young Spaniard Jon Rahm looming ominously and the 2013 champion Adam Scott. And on two-under comes a crowd featuring Tiger Woods.
Seventy is the Augusta magic number for Woods. He was quick to point out that the three previous occasions on which he opened with a two-under effort, he went on to win. “And I’ve only shot like under 70 one time,” he said. “I feel very good. I feel like I played well today and I controlled my ball all day. I’ve shot this number and won [three of his] four coats, so hopefully I can do it again. It was a good, solid start but we still have a long way to go. Tee off late tomorrow and the wind’s supposed to be up, and the wind’s supposed to be up, so I have my work cut out for me the rest of the week and so does everyone else.”
What a journey it has been in the last few years for the 14-time major-winner. On Wednesday night, he received the Ben Hogan Award for continuing to play despite a ‘physical handicap or illness’ and in his speech to the Golf Writers’ Association of America, he confirmed that his remarkable journey back from the brink of quitting began in London.
The story was first revealed in Telegraph Sport 15 months ago, but for the first time Woods told the tale. It was 2017 and such was the pain in his back he believed he was finished. “I had to get a nerve block just to be able to walk and come to the dinner that year,” he said. “It meant so much to me to be part of the Masters and come to the Champion’s Dinner. I didn’t want to miss it. It was tough and uncomfortable.
“I ended up going to England that night, saw a specialist there, and they recommended unfortunately for me the only way to get rid of the pain I was living in was to have the spinal fusion surgery. So I decided to go to Dr. Richard Guyer in Texas and had the surgery.”
It is fair to say, the effect has reinvigorated not just Woods but golf itself. And Sunday, the transformation could verge on the magical for both, as he targets his first major in 11 years and his first Masters in 14 after finishing second at the USPGA and sixth at The Open last summer. He had every right to be pleased with his start because he knows better than anyone here that Augusta is no place for a game of catch-up. After all, he was the last champion to emerge from outside the top 10 after day one and that was back in 2005. He will have to do so again, as he is in a tie for 11th, alongside, among others Rickie Fowler, Francesco Molinari and Jason Day.
Those who will have to frank the odds – not to mention the statisticians – include Rory McIlroy, on one-over after an erratic 73 comprising five birdies, six bogeys and seven pars. The last Masters winners – Patrick Reed and Sergio Garcia – also posted one-over efforts. With the career grand slam on the line, McIlroy struggled at times to keep his ball under control and will be looking to go low today [FRI] to put his challenge back on track. His bogy language following a missed five-footer on the 18th for par was not good.
Koepka makes par on 18
And he goes into the clubhouse as the joint leader with Bryson DeChambeau on 66. See you
tomorrow night tonight.
-6 DeChambeau (F) Koepka (F)-5 Mickelson (F)-4 Poulter (F), D Johnson (F) -3 Harding, Scott, Rahm, Kisnert, Aphibarnrat (all F).
Ovation for Mickelson
As he walks up the final fairway and acknowledges the galleries. In his group Justin Rose finishes with a birdie and a par at 17 and 18 to score 75, three-over. He’ll need to march from the first tee tomorrow to repair the damage.
Mickleson, the three-times winner, rolls in his 12-footer for birdie and he moves to one stroke behind Koepka and DeChambeau. The third man in the group, Justin Thomas, bogeys the last and ends at one-over.
-6 DeChambeau (F) Koepka (17)-5 Mickelson (F)-4 Poulter (F), D Johnson (F) -3 Harding, Scott, Rahm, Kisnert, Aphibarnrat (all F).
Koepka makes par on 17
So this is how they stand:
-6 DeChambeau (F) Koepka (17)-4 Poulter (18), D Johnson (F) Mickelson (17)-3 Harding, Scott, Rahm, Kisnert, Aphibarnrat (all 18).
DeChambeau signs for a 66
Which actually comprised six birdies from the last seven holes. Remarkable.
DeChambeau almost chips in for eagle at 18! It actually hits flush in the centre of the flagstick from 160 yards and bounces back to 2ft. That ought top be a fifth birdie from the last six holes and a share of the lead.
Flesh and blood
Koepka, who made birdies at 12, 13, 14 and 15, had a seven-footer for a fifth in succession at 16 but left it an inch or so short. Up on 17 he has just flayed his second into the front bunker. He should still get up and down without damage.
Francesco Molinari has birdied 18, only the second man to do so today, and trots to the scorer’s hut to sign for a 70, two -under.
As it stands
-6 Koepka (16)-5 DeChambeau (17)-4 Poulter (18), D Johnson (16) Mickelson (16)-3 Harding, Scott, Rahm, Kisnert, Aphibarnrat (all 18).
Koepka duly sinks his birdie putt
And moves to -6 while on 17 DeChambeau pulls one in front of Poulter to -5 by chipping in from about 35ft.
Poulter heads to the clubhouse
As the leader with a 68, four-under. Only Brooks Koepka, back on 15, is ahead of him and looks close to extending his lead with a brilliant recovery that allows him to chip to within 5ft. A bolted on birdie.
Mickelson’s tee shot at the 16th lands 8ft high of the pin and spins towards the flag, stopping about a ball circumference short. That will mean a birdie and a share of second on -4.
DeChambeau, the reason for the hold-up with his notorious slow play, almost aces his chip to the par-three 16th but it stays up high on the left lip and he has a tiddler to knock in for birdie and a share of second-place with Poulter.
On 16, the limping Jason Day and Dustin Johnson both make birdies to join the group on -3 alongside Phil Mickelson who is one hole behind and has birdied 15.
Par for Poulter on 17
So he goes up the 18th fairway at four-under, all alone in second. Dustin Johnson has a good chance for birdie on 15th but doesn’t make it. There is a huge bottleneck coming up the final four holes and Koepka is made to wait 15 minutes on the 15th tee and slices it down the right.
Because Brooks Koepka has just this minute arrowed in a 16-footer for birdie on 14 to take the overall lead on five-under:
-5 Koepka-4 Poulter (16) -3 Harding (18), Scott (18), Rahm (18), Kisner (17), Aphibarnrat (17), D Johnson (14).
The leader board robot at the top of the page is lagging
Sorry for that: here’s where we are:
-4 Poulter (16), Koepka (13)-3 Harding (18), Scott (18), Rahm (18), Kisner (16), Aphibarnrat (16), D Johnson (14).
Anything Koepka can do …
Ian Poulter can match and he catches him for a share of the lead at -4. His brilliant tee shot at the par-three 16th left him a 3ft tiddler for birdie which he rolled in. A little fist pump, too. Nothing like Medinah but a fist pump nonetheless. His disparagers in the Twitter sewer are not happy.
But we have a new leader
And it’s Brooks Koepka, whose birdie at the 13th takes him to -4. Koepka, who is the reigning US Open and US PGA champion, was written off a little since losing all that weight on the Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor principle, is smoothly pulling away at the moment.
And two more join the leading pack
One of whom is Ian Poulter who chipped to 10ft past the pin at 15 and then curled in his 10ft birdie putt. Kiradech Aphibarnrat is one hole ahead and followed his birdie at 15 with another at the par-three 16th to make it nine on -3.
And then there were seven
Kevin Kisner joins the happy band on three-under with his hat-trick birdie on 15. Justin Rose’s new equipment seems to be stifling him off the tee and on the green. His short game has been magnificent but his driving and putting … sheesh … which is why he is loitering at the back, tied with Spieth at +4.
From three to six at the top
And another birdie for Jason Day at 13 takes him to -2. The first significant move for a while is from Brooks Koepka who seems to have lost about 2st since the Ryder Cup. He sweeps in a 12-footer for birdie at 12 to move to -3 and the joint lead where back-to-back birdies at 12 and 13 have also taken Bryson Dechambeau.
And here’s another – Dustin Johnson rattles in his birdie putt at 13 and joins a six-way tie for the lead.
Jason Day bears a burden of considerable pain with his fragile back and needs a trainer to manipulate it when it threatens to spasm. He was tied for second here in 2011 and is a former world No1 before these chronic problems began. But he is -1 through 12 having begun with a bogey. Let’s hope he makes it through the four days.
Kevins Na and Kisner are one stroke ahead of Day at -2, the latter after back-to-back birdies at the 13th and 14th.
Back on 13
Ian Poulter, like Kuchar, had an eagle putt, his about 30ft and he went for it with real courage with the flag in. It certainly kissed the lip but did not consummate and he had to settle for a birdie that takes him up to -2.
18 strikes again
Patton Kizzire and Gary Woodland took their drives off the 18th tee on -3 and tied for the lead but bogeyed it, just like Justin Harding and go in at -2.
That leaves a three-way tie for the lead between Harding, Rahm and Scott.
Matt Kuchar, in hot, hot, hot form this year, has just eagled 13 after a brilliant second shot right from the elbow of the bend to 12ft. Having sunk the putt he walks on to the 14th tee at -2.
On the 18th green
Cameron Smith who finished in joint fifth last year, slots his par put to make 70 and share a tie for second place. McIlroy knocks his 6ft par putt past and goes in four behind the leaders on +1. Rickie Fowler makes his par and goes in tied with Smith.
Lefty is on the march
Mickelson, having stunk out the Ryder Cup, has found the form for such a familiar course and is two-under through eight where Koepka misses the birdie putt after missing the one for eagle. At the 18th tee McIlroy hooks wildly.
Jon Rahm joins Adam Scott and Justin Harding with the clubhouse lead on -3 and Woods goes in one behind on -2 with a composed par putt from about 4ft.
Meanwhile Justin Rose, the world No1 who began with four pars, has bogeyed 5, 7 and eight and nine to slip down to four-over.
Back to E for McIlroy
Like Woods, the problem at 17 was with the tee shot and he was unable to overcome the handicap he had imposed upon himself. The bogey takes him to level with one to play. Only one birdie on 18 so far, from Adam Scott. Brooks Koepka had a 25-footer for eagle on eight but overgassed it and swept it low of the cup and 6ft past.
Spieth continues to struggle.
On 17 McIlroy drives it about 300 yards to land the ball just short of where Woods was in the trees. He goes for a pitch with fade and gives himself about 50ft for birdie. Off the 18th tee Woods plonks his drive into the bunker. Way back Justin Thomas birdies eight to move back up to even but Jordan Spieth is struggling at +3 through the seventh.
McIlroy lines up the birdie putt but the undulating serpentine path to the cup undoes him and he leaves it about 10ft short.
Woods three-putts 17
And falls off the lead. The drive killed it for him and meant he had to Seve it out of the woods.
Birdie for McIlroy at 16
He was off the tee with an eight iron, hooked it a bit to the left but nonetheless drained a 30-footer for back-to-back birdies. He’s now two strokes off the lead with two to play and is three-under off his last four holes. Up on 17 Woods is in the trees from the tee but hits a decent recovery cut shot that gives himself a chance for par.
Back to level for McIlroy
He made a bold attempt at the eagle on 15 and it crept close but not close enough. Good enough for birdie, though and with three to play McIlroy is on even. Rahm and Woods make pars on 16 and remain on -3, tied for the lead with Harding, Scott, Woodland and Kizzire.
Shot of the day
From McIlroy on 15. After hooking his tee shot he had a thicket of trees between him and the green but took it on, finding a path like a guided missile and has given himself about 35ft for eagle. Amazing.
A dreadful start for PC – bogeys at one, three and four and a double bogey at five leaves him on +5 after five. Ahead of him Vijay Singh double-bogeyed seven and followed it with three consecutive bogeys and the 56-year-old, Masters champion in 2000, spirals to +7.
And another joins the clubhouse leaders
It’s Adam Scott, Masters champion in 2013 via a play-off against Angel Cabrera on that horribly wet and windy Sunday, having birdied 15, 17 and 18. Back, baby!
At the 15th
Woods bursts the green by about 45ft and is almost incredulous about what he has just done. Gary Woodland, solid as a rock, has made another birdie at 15 after seven successive pars and joins the leaders on -3.
Ian Poulter has just had a 12ft putt for a share of the lead with Woods, Harding, Rahm and the roller-coastering Kizzire but the break drew it to the left of the cup. Poulter remains on -2 after eight holes.
Woods joins the leaders
With a birdie at 14. He had about 29ft, right to left break and judged it expertly. Playing with him, Rahm has a chance of the sole lead with a birdie putt on the same green but has to settle for par.
Has McIlroy left it too late?
Better late than never – he makes birdie from 2ft at 13 to move up to +1.
Sky is allowed to show proper live coverage with about 3½ hours to go. And it begins with Luis Oosthuizen missing a gimme on 15 for par and he falls back to -1. Gary Woodland has come through Amen Corner unscathed and extended his run of pars to seven through the 14th.
Birdie for Woods at the par five 13th
His terrific approach gave him 50ft for eagle and he very sensibly lagged up to about 4ft and rolled it in. He joins a group of 11 tied for second. One in, one out, though as his playing partner Jon Rahm leaves them to go -3 with a birdie at the same hole.
Missed a one-footer at the first and has now missed a three-footer on four. Here’s Oliver Brown on what’s eating the 2015 Masters champ:
When Jordan Spieth unravelled in the final round of last year’s Open, finding his lead snatched by Tiger Woods on a wild Carnoustie afternoon, few dared describe it as anything more sinister than a blip. Perhaps his severe GI Joe haircut, acquired courtesy of a local barber, had brought him bad luck. What nobody could have predicted was that the boy wonder, only the second player ever to win three majors before his 24th birthday, would turn up at the following year’s Masters without another top 10 to his name.
The pack at -2
Tied for second now includes Ian Poulter after his birdie at the 6th. Bernhard Langer rejoins them, too, as does Thorbjorn Olesen. Entering the band from the other direction is Patton Kizzire after a bogey at 12.
Aaron Wise had a share of the lead through 13 when he was on -2, has ended his first Masters round on +3 after bogeys at 14. 16 and 18 and a double bogey at the 17th. It’s the same score as Danny Willett, who made birdies at 13 and 15 after that horror show quadruple at 10 but then bogeyed 17.
Old tangerine strides himself …
Rickie Fowler, who is playing with McIlroy, makes back-to-back birdies at 11 and 12 to join the bulging group of players on -1. McIlroy remains in two-over after dragging his birdie putt on 12 right by.
Back-to-back bogeys for McIlroy
So he falls back to +2 after the 11th. His poor third, a chip that sailed to the right of the green and sort of the putting surface, left him 30ft for par which he could not make.
Justin Rose, the world No1, forsook a superb birdie chance at the first from about 7ft, leaving it high on the right. Still, better than Jason Day and Jordan Spieth who both began with bogeys at the first though Day has fought back to par with a birdie at two.
Lucas Bjerregaard has a slice of the lead
Is tied for the lead with Harding and Kizzire after making a birdie at 15. But for that double bogey on four … For of all sad words of tongue or pen …
Bogey for McIlroy at 10
He scorched his drive to about 310 yards but put his second into the bunker guarding the green. Having splashed out to about 6ft, he squeezed the par putt to the left and had to take the hit. He falls back to one-over.
Justin Harding follows Corey Connors by bogeying the 18th. He usurps the Canadian at clubhouse leader on -3.
It’s a triple bogey for Stenson at 13
He drops back to -3 with an eight. Finau makes birdie at the same hole and elevates himself to one-under. Garcia, in the same group, three putts for par, missing a golden opportunity for birdie by lipping out from 4ft.
Justin Hardin extends his lead
With a birdie at 17 he moves one stroke ahead of Patton Kizzire on -4.
Forget the lead, I didn’t even have Justin Harding in the running for Low Justin.
— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelTAN) April 11, 2019
Stenson is having a trial by exasperation on 13. First he loses his ball in the azaleas, takes a drop then flubs his third into the stream.
Back on nine McIlroy makes par to take the turn with the big E by his name on the scoreboard.
Garcia’s eagle putt lacks gas and falls a good 6ft short.
Movement at T2
Among those newcomers to the tied for second spot are Charles Howell III, imaginative naming policy there, who has made back-to-back birdies at 12 and 13 and Lucas Bjerregaard, the Danish debutant who won last year’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
Sergio Garcia, our beloved 2017 champion who has done his best to obliterate that fondness this past month, has birdied 12 and has a 20ft putt for eagle on 13. If he makes it it would take him from out of the green and into the red at -1.
Sandy Lyle is two off the lead on one-under after making a birdie at the 2nd and 6th (after bogeying the fifth) while Bernhard Langer is one stroke better off at two-under with birdies at two and four.
Woods makes the turn also on one-under after a terrific second shot, set up by a lucky bounce out of the rough into the first cut off the tee, earns him a chance at a birdie.
Tiger turns -1, and he’s honestly played well enough to lead at -4.
— Ryan Ballengee (@RyanBallengee) April 11, 2019
Rory McIlroy does what Woods couldn’t at the 8th, carding the birdie after a blistering drive and precision second gave him a 40ft putt for eagle which he effectively lagged up. Back to even.
On the eighth green
Tiger Woods had 5ft for birdie and for the third time on the front nine misses a short putt for birdie, sliding it to the left of the cup. Rahm also sweeps his putt past the cup, but that was for par. It leaves Li, who almost chipped in for a dramatic eagle, with the honour after he pops in the remaining tiddler for birdie.
Justin Harding, up on 15, has taken the outright lead with a birdie and is three-under with three to play. It’s Harding’s debut at Augusta National and his broomhandle putter is Old Faithful today.
More to come from Wise?
Aaron ‘Ernie’ Wise, the South Africa-born American, had been very solid through Amen Corner, protecting his two-under score, but drops a shot at 15. Corey Connors takes the clubhouse lead but only at -2, having bogeyed 18. Birds at five and seven by Gary Woodland, who led the US PGA last year after 36 holes, puts him on two-under with Connors, Fleetwood, Kizzire and Justin Harding.
Step back for McIlroy
Trouble at the par-three sixth where his tee shot pitches on to the green and down the slope to about 15 yards. He knocks it back up to 10ft and misses the par putt on the right. He goes back to one-over.
The 61-year-old 1991 Masters champion went through nine at three-over and has just birdied the 15th. Sadly, though, that triumph came after a quadruple bogey at the monster par-four 11th where he knocked his approach shot into the water twice and bogeys at 12, 13 and 14. He is currently nine-under and given he said the more he walks the worse his back is, that is some achievement to make birdie on 15.
Woods Ice Station Zebra putter
After missing a routing five-footer for par at the fifth, he misses from about the same distance on six, this time spurning the birdie chance. Branden Grace drops back to one-under after a bogey at 10.
McIlroy, meanwhile, gives himself about 18ft for birdie at the fifth, but slides it to the right to leave himself a tiddler for par.
Tommy Fleetwood has made his second birdie of the day in a really solid start. He is on -2 after seven. “I’m always going to play to win,” he said on Tuesday. “I’m never going to look back on my career and say, ‘Oh, I finished top five at the Masters – that’s something I’ll never say to my kids or grandkids and that’s not something I’d ever be that proud of.”
Danny Willett sinks back
The 2016 Masters champion birdied the second but has followed bogeys on five and six with a triple bogey at 10 after needing a drop following his wild second stroke. This all seems a very long time ago indeed:
Second eagle of the day
And earning himself the customary pair of crystal goblets from Augusta National, is alliteration’s and Canada’s Corey Connors who takes the outright lead at three-under. His last three holes have been birdie-birdie-eagle. The Kent State graduate – “Tin soldiers and Nixon’s comin'” - is playing his second Masters after debuting in 2015.
Woods drops a shot
Woods gave himself the opportunity to save par at the fifth when he wedges out of the bunker sideways then pitched his third to 5ft. But his putt lipped out on the right and he bares his teeth. Li saves his par and stays on two-under.
McIlroy is in bionic mode, smoking another drive 320 yards, this time off the fifth tee.
Garcia chips away at the double bogey
With a birdie at the par-five eighth. Henrik Stenson, who was on the green in two, takes three putts and stays on one-under while Tony Finau drains his six-footer to match Sergio for birdie and stay one-stroke ahead on par.
The US coverage on the red button, which is all we have from Sky until 7pm apart from highlights on the Masters’ website. He makes a real hash of his tee-shot on the remodelled fifth, yelling after it ‘go left, go left, go left, go left’ but it doesn’t and flops into a fairway bunker.
At the par-three fourth McIlroy gives himself a 40ft putt on the lightning quick green for birdie and leaves it about 30 inches short, Excellent line. That should be par. And it is.
Branden Grace, who has had a topsy-turvy first round, makes his fourth birdie at the ninth to add to the two bogeys and rejoin the leaders on -2.
McIlroy makes his birdie putt
McIlroy duly rolls his 4ft putt in and is back to level par through three.
Neck and neck at the fourth
Li, with a rush of blood, burst the green at the 240-yard par-three fourth, smiting his tee shot about 30ft past and is fortunate that it grips and doesn’t run on. Both Jon Rahm and Tiger Woods give themselves fighting chances of birdies with uphill putts from within 25ft.
Rory McIlroy’s drive off the third tee is another monster, more than 320 yards which leaves him only about 35 yards to the pin.
Patton Kizzire, the Alabaman who won the Hawaii Open last year but did not make the cut here in 2018, has chipped in from about 25 yards to eagle the second and move up to a share of the lead.
Jon Rahm, too, joins the leaders on two under with a terrific birdie putt, perfectly paced to drop in from about 25ft. Woods, on the same line, from about 5ft further in, leaves his birdie putt up on the left and taps in for par. Li has 6ft uphill for par after his rank tee shot and makes it.
McIlroy chips to about 5ft on the third and should make his first birdie to move back to par.
Li makes a fast start
Rory McIlroy has given himself a terrific chance of cancelling out that opening bogey with a chip to within 8ft of the flagstick at the second. Back on the third green, or more precisely off it, Woods’s second spun off the back of the green into the stubble but he plays a terrific bump and run that curves towards the pin and scoots past. Excellent chance of par there from 3ft.
Haotong Li, playing with Tiger, has made back-to-back birdies to move to a share of the lead after three. His putter is molten. Rahm sweeps his birdie putt in from 5ft and then Woods knocks his in for par.
McIlroy’s birdie putt creeps as close as dammit but won’t drop. He stays at one-over after Pink Dogwood.
Woods continues his fine start
Xander Schauffele, who tied for second at the Open last year in Carnoustie, has birdied the first two for a tie of the lead with Luis Oosthuizen and Justin Harding.
Woods from the bunker in front of the second green, plays a sumptuous chip shot that slides only about 4ft inches past the pin, to the left of the cup. Perfect line to make the birdie but he has been dreadful from within 10ft this past nine months. But he rolls it in with just enough speed to flop into the hole. Birdie for Woods. Off the third tee, he scorches another drive with great balance, power and poise.
Up on six, Sergio Garcia has had a horror show, double-bogeying after a poor chip and even worse first putt. He is now two-over. But Stenson has made amends for his bogey at five with a birdie two.
Rory McIlroy, meanwhile, has begun with a bogey at the first after his second shot hit a tree and his par-saver putt burned past the cup. He has just murdered his drive 320 yards up the second fairway, though.
Angel Cabrera, winner here in 2009 when he beat Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell in a play-off, is struggling so far. The Duck has made six bogeys and a birdie so far and is way behind the field at five-over.
Defending champion, Patrick Reed, has begun with three straight pars. Woods’ approach to the second green has come up a club too short and to the right. May be a struggle to get up and down with comfort from there.
Enjoy the rest of day one
That’s all from me, I shall be following the fortunes of Woods and particularly Justin Thomas from afar.
I leave you in the hands and keyboard of Rob Bagchi talk you through the rest of the day’s play.
To the second
Birdie chance this par five, but the dogleg left has given Woods trouble down the years. He now prefers to fade the longer clubs and this hole goes the other way. Interesting to see how he approaches this shot, and it will tell us plenty about his confidence with the big stick.
Driver out, and he pegs up on the right of the tee box…and he absolutely smokes one with a hint of draw. Kicks down the downslope and he will have an iron for his second.
I imagine his in-play odds are tumbling, very promising start. Jon Rahm has him by 15 yards of so though, another huge drive from the Spaniard.
Pars for Rahm and Woods
Jon Rahm also found the green and has a similar length of putt to Woods but from pin high left. Decent pace but drifts to the right and finishes below the hole. Should be a par four.
Woods up next, no signs of frayed nerves there as he lags his birdie putt up to a foot. Steps around Rahm’s marker and taps in for a par four. He has had worse starts over the years that is for sure. In fact, Woods has only broken 70 once in a Masters first round.
That was in 2010 after his self-imposed exile following that water hydrant hiatus.
Tiger’s approach finds the green
Woods didn’t have much club in his hand with that second and it was right on line, but he comes up a little shy. An old pros play that one to a back pin – there is no future long. It will however, be a testy 30-footer or so that will put Woods’ stroke under the microscope.
Eldrick’s Masters is up and running
Tony Finau has knifed a bunker shot through the back at the fourth, and looks like dropping his first shot of the day. Solid two-putt par on four from Garcia – you sign for four of those this week.
Attention about to turn to Tiger Woods, who is knocking in a few six-footers on the putting green before walking to the first tee for his 4.04pm tee time. I think the faster greens might be to his liking, he has struggled for pace all year and that’s one thing you need not worry about at Augusta.
Takes driver at the first, and first tee-nerves have been a nemesis of his in majors…but no such worries today! Starts it down the left side and it cuts back perfectly, and bounds past the bunker on the right. That’s well over 300 yards and right up their on the flat.
Looks very balmy in Georgia, Woods keeps wiping his brow of sweat, but that should keep his dodgy back nice and limber. Playing partner Rahm pushes his drive slightly, but it is crushed…flies the bunker.
Stenson chips in for birdie
What did I say? Stenson struggling with his chipping?
Well he plays a bump and run from just a yard of the green at three and cans it – moves the 2016 Open champion to one-under. Vindication for his strategy on this hole. Three straight pars for Garcia but now two missed chances with the putter.
Finau slides another birdie putt past, but it’s not really his stroke that is the problem. He needs to start giving himself some up-hillers when possible.
They now enter a brutal stretch from the fourth through the seventh, which now includes the lengthened par-four fifth. Play those four holes in par and you can shoot something in the 60s.
Back to the featured group
A little bold from Stenson, but his second just about sticks to the back fringe – could have been worse at the third.
Nice pitch from Garcia, a little bit of check on it and it catches the right to left slope to stop about 10 to 12 feet behind the flag for birdie. The pitch of some of these greens is so severe. It’s like putting down a glass staircase.
Finau will have another swift one on the way.
To the third…
Very bold play by Garcia with driver at this short par-four third. Trying to keep this one up the left…doesn’t quite manage it but it’s long and in the right centre of the fairway. Just a pitch from there.
Finau pounds one up near the green, and this one is down the left side which creates a nice angle to this back right flag.
Stenson taking a different approach. He takes an iron to leave himself a full wedge shot in – according to Paul McGinley, Stenson has been struggling with his short game which might explain that decision.
All pars for this group
No birdie for Garcia whose putt was a little to firm for the line he chose. A par five at the second is always a little disappointing. Finau rolls one in to escape with par and Stenson also pars.
All three E thru two.
Tony Finau, he of ankle dislocation fame, has left himself a slippery birdie putt at the second. So important at Augusta to leave approach shots below the hole whenever possible.
Very disappointing pitch from Stenson, who does not fly it far enough to this front left pin and it rolls back towards him – will have all of 30 feet for birdie.
Garcia’s second found the front bunker, but he splashes out nicely and uses the counters to set up a short birdie putt.
Featured groups beginning to start
Sound start for Pepperell who makes a solid par four down the first after a booming drive down the right side. Danny Willett is one-under thru three.
Sergio Garcia, Tony Finau and Henrik Stenson are off on their way, and all made par fours at the first.
Couple of European updates…
Shane Lowry missed a good birdie chance at the par-five second but does back three at the third to bounce back to level par.
Danny Willett had parred the first. A rare birdie two for American Kevin Tway at the fourth and he is the first player to reach two-under.
Sneds off to a fast start
Brandt Snedeker went close here 2007 (or was it 2008) and is certainly a good enough putter to prevail again. Had a rough few years but begins with a birdie at the difficult first, which is like gaining 1.5 shots on the field.
Why so many disasters at Augusta?
Eagles, double-bogeys, the roars echoing through the pines…all staples of Masters Sunday. But what is it about this course that causes so much drama? I tried to find the answers in this piece here.
Here is a flavour:
The topography of Augusta is dramatic and television does not do the steep elevation changes justice. The drop from the 10th tee to the lowest point in the fairway is 116 feet, which is ‘taller’ than the Statue of Liberty.
On the low points of the course around Amen Corner – the 11th, 12th and 13th – it can be fiendishly difficult to detect the strength and direction of the wind on fairways surrounded by towering pine trees. A player’s fate can be decided simply by when they choose to pull the trigger. Many a tale of woe at the signature par-three 12th has resulted when a tee shot catches a gust once it climbs above the tree line, either stalling into Rae’s Creek short or bounding through the back. Expect to see a lot of hesitancy on that tee as players wait on the wind.
Two players in the red
Justin Harding and Kevin Tway are the first two players under-par, but early days yet.
South African Harding played some nice stuff against Rory in the Match Play and pushed him all the way. He is a talent and looks to have refocused, but it takes a few visits to get the hang of Augusta. Or that’s the accepted wisdom.
Pin position on the first
Sky have some limited coverage at the moment, but it does give us an idea of conditions. Slightly overcast at the moment but things are expected to warm up later.
The course is soft and the word on the range is this could be quite a good day of scoring.
The pin on the first hole is on a shelf in the back right of the green – many players will catch the slope and spin back into the middle of the green because going long is D.E.A.D.
The rush to find a spot begins
Par for Woosie at the first, and he would sign up now for 17 more of them.
Woosie on the way
Corey Conners won in Texas last week to seal his spot and Augusta, and he will be exhaling a deep sigh of relief after an always acceptable par four at the first.
Not so good for player partners Landry and Long who start with a bogey. Not that they will be the last to do that.
1991 champion Ian Woosnam up next, possibly for the final time on a Masters Thursday. He can still give it a fair old crack, but says his back is struggling with the walking. Augusta might just be one of the toughest walks in golf.
The early groups are off, these are the starters in the next hour or so
- 13.30 – Andrew Landry, Adam Long, Corey Conners
- 13.41 – Ian Woosnam, Keith Mitchell, Kevin Tway
- 13.52 – Mike Weir, Shane Lowry, a-Kevin O’Connell
- 14.03 – Angel Cabrera, Aaron Wise, Justin Harding
- 14.14 – Danny Willett, Brandt Snedeker, a-Takumi Kanaya
- 14.25 – Fred Couples, Si Woo Kim, J.B. Holmes
- 14.36 – Branden Grace, Emiliano Grillo, Lucas Bjerregaard
- 14.47 – Charl Schwartzel, Charles Howell III, Eddie Pepperell
There he is, the Man in Black at 83
Player was a three-time winner here in 1961, 1974 and 1978.
And there goes Jack – just the six green jackets in his wardrobe (or closet if you prefer), the last of which came in epic style in 1986. One of the seminal final days that, with Seve dunking his ball in the drink at 15 and Nicklaus completing a back nine charge at 46 years of age. Still the oldest major champion.
No TV coverage yet but we’re off
Pictures as soon as we get them – but Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus have clipped away their honorary tee shots on the first. I imagine Player was the longer owing to his flexibility.
Loves the odd sit-up does Gary, not sure if he’s ever mentioned it…
If you read one interview before the Masters…
Make it this one as James Corrigan sits down with the inimitable Eddie Pepperell. I’m sure all golfers will relate to this sentiment, put across in typically acerbic fashion:
“I mean, I am looking forward to it, of course I am. But it’s one of those where I can really look forward to it for months and months and then if I’m five over after three holes, I will be looking forward to getting the f— out of there. And I kind of can’t help but understand that that’s what’s going to happen.”
You might be familiar with his highly entertaining Twitter presence:
Japes aside, he is actually a damn good player who thrives on tougher tracks. Tasty with the irons, but this might come a little too soon for him.
I did enjoy this piece last year on the ‘other Augusta’
Sam Dean tells the story of the Augusta outside the electric gates of the National. Sam is now on the Arsenal beat, so will be at the Emirates this evening rather than Augusta.
So from one place of simmering division to…no, I won’t do that.
Never watched the Masters before?
As our man Alan Tyers explores in this television guide, watching the tournament on television can be a peculiarity in 2019.
Rather like Ray Davies’ Village Green Preservation Society, the green-jacket Augusta committee members are preoccupied with ‘protecting the old ways from being abused’.
In fact, they make the Republican National Convention seem like Goldsmiths’ Student Union such is their attitude to modernity and progress.
The keys to Augusta success
Looking over the history of the Masters and some statistical nuggets, I tried to narrow down the attributes of Masters champion to a few important facets. You can read the five ways to pick the winner here.
Dominating the par-fives is important:
Although if you can steal a march on the par-fours you can make up a lot of ground on the field. The last five winners have ranked in the top seven of the PGA Tour’s par four birdie or better metric. This season’s top seven are:
- Phil Mickelson
- Justin Thomas
- Rickie Fowler
- Rafa Cabrera Bello
- Tyrrell Hatton
- Patrick Cantlay
- Rory McIlroy
Last chance to put your money where your mouth is…
Our guide to all things punting Ross Clarke compiled our Masters betting guide and our golf experts have made their predictions.
I use the term experts loosely because my shout is included, but here is why I fancy American Justin Thomas to win his first green jacket:
Thomas is a glorious iron player – he just needs to rein in his aggressive instincts when necessary. His best finish this season was second at Riviera, where Augusta specialists Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson and Fred Couples are multiple winners. I am taking that link and running with it.
His best mate Jordan Spieth has won the Masters too, and emulating a friend sometimes makes the task at hand seem a little less daunting.
Who better to show you round Augusta than…
World No 1 and multiple contender at the Masters Justin Rose: read his hole-by-hole guide to this prestigious layout here.
Rose’s regular caddie Fooch is back on the bag this week for the first time since heart surgery earlier this year. That’s the kind of romantic tale that would have me believing it was Rose’s year had I any money on him – it’s uncanny how golf throws up those stories.
A couple of years back Danny Willett’s wife was heavily pregnant with their firstborn during Masters week and look what happened there. A golfer with a sense of perspective is a dangerous thing…
The long dark winter is over, the Masters is here…
The clocks have gone back, county cricket has returned and we know the FA Cup finalists, but for golf fans the Masters is the true commencement of British Summer Time.
The lighter evenings and Augusta National beaming through the television with all its plumage and pageantry is a prompt to bang the mud off your spikes, scrape the dirt from your grooves and get yourself to driving range to blow off those winter cobwebs.
The 83rd edition of this exclusive tournament promises to be one for the ages (I know, we say this every year).
The biggest story on this side of the Atlantic at least is Rory McIlroy’s quest to complete the career grand slam with a Masters victory having won the US Open, Open Championship and USPGA previously.
McIlroy has finished in the top-10 in every PGA Tour start this season, the first player to drive down Magnolia Lane with that form since Phil Mickelson in 2004. And he went on to win his first Masters that week.
Augusta has always been right up Rory’s alley with his stratospheric ball-flight and prodigious distance, and added consistency with his scoring clubs and on the greens mean he could not be better placed.
That said, McIlroy has not won a major since 2014 and the longer that wait goes on the more difficult it will be to end. He also has some scar tissue in final rounds at Augusta.
Tiger Woods’ Masters last season was his first in three years, and it might be no bad thing that this season has been a quieter run-up to the year’s first major.
Woods has suffered from a cold putter, but enjoys the Augusta surfaces. Sometimes fast greens can help a struggling putter because you do not need to worry about getting the ball to the hole. All your focus goes on the line.
He may not have won the Masters since 2005, but Woods has a stack of a good finishes at Augusta since. With soft conditions likely to demand plenty of drivers though, there is a theory Woods’ best chances might be on the springy turf of Pebble Beach and Royal Portrush this summer. Woods and McIlroy begin just after 4pm.
Then there are a host of players with ideal games or fine Masters records who are yet to win the thing: Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas and Matt Kuchar are all popular selections this week.
Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson are past champions and Augusta specialists , but you would be relying on local knowledge to prevail over current form.
Rose and McIlroy lead the European charge, but Tommy Fleetwood, Paul, Casey and Francesco Molinari are all sound candidates to continue the lineage of European success at the Masters.
Play begins at 1.30pm and you can follow all the action with us.
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