The 2021 Masters is underway and firm and fast conditions are already causing headaches for some of the world’s best.
Just 12 broke players broke par in the 88-man field — a drastic difference from last year’s numbers in November.
Here’s what we learned from day one at Augusta National.
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ROSE AMONGST THORNS
2017 runner-up Justin Rose blossomed on the fiery greens. The Englishman holds a commanding four-shot lead after shooting a seven-under 65. He’s used to being a frontrunner here at Augusta, it’s the fourth time he’s been a first round leader.
Rose was two-over thru seven before an eagle on eight ignited his charge up the leaderboard. He birdied seven of the next 10 holes to make a mockery of his peers, who also battled winds in the early afternoon.
After his heartbreaking sudden death playoff defeat to Sergio Garcia, the 40 year-old now needs to hold his nerve for three more days around a course that’s wreaking havoc.
“That’s going to be the trick the rest of the week. Hopefully you can just run off instinct a little bit. Obviously I’ve competed in these big tournaments quite a few times, and I’ve got one of them to my name, but we’re looking for more,” Rose said.
“But I’ve had some situations in my career that should stand me in good stead, but listen, I think to keep the expectations relatively low even in this situation is not a bad thing for me for the remainder of the week.”
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BIG GUNS STAY IN HOLSTERS
They say you can’t win the Masters on Thursday or Friday, but you certainly can lose it. With baked greens and tough pin placements, many of the big guns respected the course and played defensive golf.
Defending champion and world number one Dustin Johnson looked like a different golfer from the man who scored an unflappable 20-under in November. But this seemed like a different golf course. A double bogey on 18 would’ve left him spitting out his favourite Pimento Cheese Sandwich, but his picture-perfect pitch on 11 did excite Amen Corner.
World number two and Players Championship winner Justin Thomas flew under the radar, salvaging a 73 and, buoyed by last week’s win at the Texas Open, Jordan Spieth managed a solid start at Augusta, carding a one-under 71.
“Somewhat typical for me at the Masters, I guess. Some good golf, and then some fireworks on both ends,” Spieth said. “Yeah, I mean, I made really two bad swings off the tee on nine and 13, got away with one of them and didn’t with the other. Other than that, I struck the ball really, really well. I didn’t putt particularly well, but all in all, I would have signed up for one-under to start the round if I had 17 pars and a birdie.”
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AUSSIES’ ‘LOCAL KNOWLEDGE’
They might be far from home, but Australia’s current big three say there’s a familiarity about the conditions at Augusta National at the moment. With ‘glass-like’ greens and the abundance of bunkers, Cameron Smith, Adam Scott and Marc Leishman have all likened the course to the sandbelt in Victoria, especially Royal Melbourne.
Leishman tips his hat to the club.
“I love actually what Augusta National have done on a couple of holes, like on three, where they’ve widened the fairway there,” he said.
“You can get an angle there whether you lay short of the bunker or get over it, they’ve widened that fairway up to get angles, and it’s the same at Royal Melbourne. You have to get the right angle and then you’ve got to hit a good shot into the right slope with the right shape and spin and all that, then you have to know where all those slopes are.
“That’s why it’s gettable, I think, because you can do that and use the slopes on the greens to get at pins that you probably — if you go straight at you’ve got no chance.
“Yeah, it reminds me a lot of the Sand Belt, particularly when the wind is like this.”
Leishman is the best of the Aussies at even-par, with Cameron Smith, Adam Scott and Matt Jones two further back at two-over.
Jason Day started OK, but he fell apart after going bogey-bogey-bogey on seven, eight and nine. He’s at five-over, 12 off the pace.
“I’ll tell you it’s been extremely frustrating over the last year and a half, two years,” he said.
“Sometimes I get discouraged out there, but it is what it is. I’ve just got to focus on trying to stay patient.”
Asked what was the most frustrating part of his game, he said: “Probably all of it.”
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DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE?
DeChambeau again arrived at Magnolia Lane as one of the main attractions this year. Last year, his big game and big talk backfired, with the 27 year-old finishing in a tie for 29th. This year, he was hoping a new driver would give him an advantage. It didn’t. The scientist turned beefcake could only hit 50 per cent of the fairways and only managed one birdie all day. He’s 11 shots off the pace at four-over.
“I personally didn’t swing it that bad. Just, it’s golf, man. I don’t know what else to say,” DeChambeau said.
Asked what he feels he has to do at Augusta to play well, he said: “Everything.
“Clearly hit a huge drive on 18, and we got a wrong number. You’ve got to have every aspect. You’ve got to iron it well. You’ve got to putt it well. There are some greens that got really, really quick, looked pretty brown. We just couldn’t adjust for it. The practice green is completely different than the golf course, and that was something that I know, but I just didn’t adjust for.”
Rory McIlroy is trying to complete a career grand slam by winning the Masters this week, but he’s off to a bad start shooting a four over 76.
It was a painful day for team McIlroy, an approach shot on seven hit a spectator, his own father, Gerry. It’s hard to tell if Gerry was hurt, or even watching the ball when he was struck. But at least Rory could see the funny side. Perhaps his dad was the target.
“In fairness I was trying to turn it off. It was a perfect shot; it was dead straight. But I think he was okay. He didn’t limp away. He walked away pretty swiftly, so that was all right.”