By Brant Brice
With over an inch of rainfall on Wednesday, and the annual par three competition a partial washout, Thursday’s forecast wasn’t much better.
Although rain threatened to stall the opening round of the 2012 Masters, the entire field was able to complete Round 1 without delay with only mild sprinkles. Apparently even Mother Nature plays hooky to catch a few holes at picturesque Augusta National.
To be cliché, tournament cannot be won on day one but surely can be lost. On a windless sunny day where birdies would abound on any other course, Augusta National proved that its uneven fairways and near perfect lightening fast greens can end many challenger’s dreams right out of the gate.
All with rounds at five over par or worse, today’s victims included Trevor Immelman (+6), Johnson Wagner (+7) , player’s champion K.J. Choi (+5), and Chez Reavie (+7); surprisingly, long hitters Alvaro Quiros (+6) and Robert Garrigus (+5) failed to score in conditions that make Augusta National play far longer than course setup and typically favor the long ball.
The majority of the field finished somewhere between three-over and one-under including notables such as last week’s winner Hunter Mahan (E), Rickie Fowler (+1), Sergio Garcia (E), Steve Stricker (-1), Aaron Baddeley (-1) and Graeme McDowell (+3.)
World No. 1 Luke Donald finished at three-over with six bogeys against three birdies. The wet conditions are a beast for shorter hitters like Donald.
Former Masters champion and crowd favorite Fred Couples finished with a great “up and down” at No. 18 to end his day at even par.
With a lost-ball triple-bogey seven on the 10th hole, Phil Mickelson scrambled his way to a surprising two-over par. His drives found him in many of the most beautiful parts of the course not often seen by television coverage.
Tiger Woods, this year’s odds on favorite to win, finished at even par. When interviewed after his round, he said he got all he could get out of his round. He conceded he was still fighting his swing of old and had some work to do on the range.
Henrik Stenson had the best round of the day at five-under going into the finishing hole. Eight shots later found him in the clubhouse with a one-under 71.
Defending Masters champion Charl Schwartzel completed his opening round defense at even par, still firmly in the hunt.
Rory McIlroy also finished with a birdie to complete his first round at one under par.
The round of the day belonged to the Lee Westwood, considered the best golfer without a major championship victory on his resume. He played an aggressive round of five-under 67 occurring on a day when two or three under should have taken the lead.
There are 12 golfers within three strokes of the lead including the likes of Bubba Watson (-3), Jason Dufner (-3), Louis Oosthuizen (-4), Jim Furyk (-2), Zack Johnson (-2) and golf boy Ben Crane (-3.)
All things considered, the big winner is once again Augusta National. It showed that well designed holes, uneven fairway lies and speedy greens strike fear in even the best of the best professional golfers.
The good news for everyone in the field is that they all have to play the same course tomorrow. It won’t get any easier nor will low scores be the norm. One good round could make up for two, even three mediocre loops around Augusta National.
Can young McIlroy currently in the clubhouse at one under 71 make up for his 2011 final round collapse? Will Tiger win his second tournament this year to win his 15th major and inch closer to Jack record 18 major championship wins? Can perennial top finisher Lee Westwood lose the title of best pro golfer without a major championship and finally win the big one? Will any of the big four be at the top after the back nine at Augusta on Sunday?
I for one will be “cough, cough” missing a few days of work and take it all in as the 2012 Masters plays out in typical dramatic style that is unlike no other!
It wouldn’t be appropriate to wrap of day one without mentioning the opening ceremonial drives. Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus were this year’s honorees.
What will stick in my mind won’t be the scowl of Jack after his drive or the incredibly youthful appearance of the 76-year-old Gary Player. It’s was the smile of Arnold Palmer after his drive. It was electrifying and reminds me why Mr. Palmer was and is so beloved. It’s impossible to quantify his contributions to the game of golf and to The Masters.