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3 Things We Learned from Day 1 at The Masters

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Day 1 is in the books at The Masters, and it was an interesting round (especially from one guy in the afternoon, but we’ll get to that shortly).

The weather was near perfect. The conditions were soft, and there was little wind in the morning and not that much in the afternoon. But the pins were tucked and the scores didn’t get too far under par. It remains to be seen whether we’ll buck the recent trend of Masters winners around 8 to 10-under.

Whatever the case, 18 holes are in the books. Here are the three most important lessons we took away from Day 1.

Jordan Spieth’s game reaches new heights

Jordan Spieth finished T2 in the 2014 Masters, and lost in a playoff last week at the Shell Houston Open.

OK, we already knew this guy was really good prior to November 2014. Spieth confirmed those feelings with a pair of wins in the final months of the year. And his recent run of finishes (a win and two runner ups) has been off the charts fantastic.

But, come on. This round was something else.

On Thursday, Spieth somehow appeared to reach a new level of play, adding a new trick to the repertoire by wholly outclassing a major championship field over 18 holes.

The 21-year-old produced a 8-under-par 64 on Thursday, developing a three-shot lead just one day into the event and electrifying the crowd through the first half of the back nine.

The young American carefully built up his birdies on the front nine, but exploded once he reached the second side. He fired in four more red numbers at Nos. 10, 12, 13 and 14 — the last involving his nearly holing out for eagle when his ball rolled dead into the middle of the pin and ricocheted off. Suddenly, with four holes left, he was 8-under and had a decent chance of breaking the major championship single-round scoring record of 63.

Spieth faded a bit down the stretch, but still turned in a tidy 8-under total, including a stellar birdie at the last, and served notice that he may just gather that first major championship at a ridiculously young age.

Before I get too carried away, we are only 18 holes in and fellow young conqueror Rory McIlroy once fell apart in the second round of a major after holding a two-stroke 18 hole lead (albeit mostly due to the bad side of the Friday weather draw). Spieth also did have a few lucky bounces today. He had a clear opening from the trees after a horrible drive on No. 7, hit a poor birdie putt on No. 12 that he was incredulous that it dropped and his approach on No. 14 somehow came out clean despite nicking a tree branch.

Still, Spieth played extremely well and the round was classic him with all points of his game peaking. How this 21-year-old continues to find a higher level of play when he’s already near the peak, I have no idea. But it’s very impressive.

Approach play paramount among leaders

Tiger Woods struggled with his ball striking in Round 1, but still carded a 1-over 73.

I profiled the Augusta National layout as part of my Masters Fantasy preview and I stated that this this course is about far more than just good putting.

For Day 1 at Augusta, I did a very rudimentary Strokes Gained Analysis of the top six on the leaderboard in order to figure out which parts of the game (driving, approach play, short game or putting) were most important to a top round on the first day. I also adjusted the formula a little bit because the rough at Augusta is not nearly the penalty that the average PGA Tour course offers. This is definitely not Mark Broadie quality, but I feel like we get a good baseline here.

What I found was that, almost across the board, great approach play had by far the biggest role in the Thursday success of the group atop the leaderboard.

Spieth, Els, Hoffman and Day all had approach play strokes gained of +3.0 or more and Rose’s was in the +2 range. All but Hoffman had positive strokes gained driving, but only Rose’s driving (+1.5 strokes gained) was really as powerful to his performance Thursday as his approach game.

Short game didn’t have a great effect, and putting was kind of in the same vein as driving. All but one had positive putting (Rose was at -1.0), but only two players had their flatsticks contribute as much or more than his approach play (Spieth with +2.75 and Els at +2.95 on the greens). Overall, I’m not sure if it will be like this over the next three days, but it’s something to look at.

Augusta is a course that sees the importance of all parts of the game somewhat equally, but maybe this year it will be a layout dominated by those who are nailing their approaches.

The old guard and the world’s best aren’t caving (for now)

tom-watson_2015_masters

Two-time Masters winner Tom Watson is 65 years old. So what. He shot a 1-under 71 in Round 1.

This older generation that some had fears about coming into this event performed well on Day 1, and two of them could easily be factors this weekend.

Phil Mickelson, he of one top-10 since the beginning of 2014, posted a solid opening 2-under 70 that included an eagle and has him in a cozy position one day into the proceedings. Tiger Woods wasn’t particularly sharp — actually it was kind of an ugly round — but the chipping woes of months ago vanished completely, and the 39-year-old battled to a respectable 73 that showed passing glimpses of form.

Of course, there was then the sudden re-emergence of the 45-year-old Ernie Els. The Big Easy really hadn’t done much for the year up until today — zero top-10s and four consecutive missed cuts at one point — but he rekindled his love affair with Augusta in posting a 5-under 67 that leaves him tied for second.

The world’s best players (besides Spieth) also stepped up on Day 1. Major championships tend to produce at least a few surprising early exits from big names, but there are very few candidates at this Masters after Day 1.

Worlds Nos. 12 and 14 J.B. Holmes and Martin Kaymer both shot 76s, but besides that all of the other top-15 players came out OK or did well. Justin Rose, Jason Day and Sergio Garcia all loom within four, and a number of big names sit at 1- or 2-under.

All in all, both of these contingents appear that they won’t be knocked down easily by adversity. Even with Spieth’s monumental opening 64, it doesn’t look like any older or top players are resigned to the idea that they won’t win.

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Kevin's fascination with the game goes back as long as he can remember. He has written about the sport on the junior, college and professional levels and hopes to cover its proceedings in some capacity for as long as possible. His main area of expertise is the PGA Tour, which is his primary focus for GolfWRX. Kevin is currently a student at Northwestern University, but he will be out into the workforce soon enough. You can find his golf tidbits and other sports-related babble on Twitter @KevinCasey19. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: September 2014

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. MASSIVE MIKE!

    Apr 10, 2015 at 11:30 am

    we??? learned nothing!

  2. The dude

    Apr 10, 2015 at 9:20 am

    I learned that Tiger can say what he wants to the press (“I’m ready!!”)….and then revert back to swing issues. Sad to say…but Tiger no longer has it. (Nice to see his chipping is great again)

  3. slider

    Apr 9, 2015 at 11:59 pm

    tiger looked good a bit rusty but much improved since phoenix

    • Chris

      Apr 10, 2015 at 9:36 am

      i dont see how it could have gotten much worse.

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