While we all needed a November Masters in 2019, we missed the April rendition that features the Augusta National Golf Club golf course in peak condition. Firm, speedy greens, preceded by similar fairways and exquisite bunkers, were in evidence on day one of the 2021 competition. Mr. Lee Elder joined Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as an honorary starter, then chairman Fred Ridley proclaimed the tournament underway. The golf that followed was excellent, and the day’s events provided many lessons to the faithful. We’ve distilled them down to five, and are pleased to open Masters week with five things that we learned on Thursday at ANGC.
1. “The margins are tiny” (Some big names played poorly)
We are always caught unaware when one of the game’s grand names turns in a poor first round at the Masters. Perhaps poorly is too strong a word; as Scott Verplank noted in the online coverage of the 15th and 16th holes—the margins for error are tiny.
This year was no different, as Bryson DeChambeau, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, and Lee Westwood each turned in a round above 75. This wasn’t horrible when the leader stood at 69, but when that number dropped late in the day, recovery became daunting. Will a mid-60s round on day two, bring them back into the thick of things? Absolutely. In fact, we’d be surprised if at least one of them doesn’t turn in a 66 or better on Friday.
2. Some smaller names played well
No names, outside of the amateur invitees, are of the smallish variety. They arrive via Washington Avenue as top 50-ranked players, or PGA Tour winners, or with some other laurel to create their stature. That said, some of the names are newer to us, and Christian Bezuidenhout, Will Zalatoris, and Brian Harman ended the day inside the top five. The first is a young lion from South Africa, with a game seasoned on the European Tour. The second is a young Demon Deacon from Dallas, who took the Korn Ferry Tour by storm in 2019, and has not let up. The third is the most recognizable name, but with two wins to his credit, Harman wants to trade the “journeyman pro” nametag for one that reads “major champion.” He has challenged in majors before, which should stand him well over the next 54 holes. For Bezuidenhout and Zalatoris, the task will be a bit more arduous.
3. There was a little bit of crazy on Thursday at the Masters
We’re not talking about Vijay Singh holing a long putt at 15 for an ocho moments after he hit the same putt into the pond with his sixth shot (although that did happen.) We’re not talking about Justin Rose’s afternoon round (that one gets its own number further along). We’re talking about Viktor Hovland tossing a triple bogey on the first hole, posting five birdies as a rebound, but adding three more bogeys to shoot one over par. We’re talking about Sungjae Im making a nine at the 15th after clearing the water in two. Hovland is still in site of the leader at +1, but Im followed the big number with a bogey at 16, and signed for 77, twelve back of the lead. Other than Rose (number five, but don’t jump ahead) there were no low numbers on the board. Patience was the order of the day, and Hovland trumped Im in that category.
4. If you go long on 15, stay long
We usually speak about golfers in “Five Things we Learned,” but today, we recall the inspiration for Bobby Jones’ Augusta National: the Old Course at St. Andrews. At the home of golf, strategy at times dictates a play beyond the hole, and even beyond the green. It asks you to play to flat areas for your approach, rather than claim distance and an awkward lie. Nowhere was this more evident than beyond the 15th green. Im and Singh notwithstanding, it was all right to play long on the par 5 as long as you didn’t try to gain too much back with your third. Should the course remain firm this week, players will take a page, nay, a chapter, from the books of Jones and Hogan, and figure out where best to miss.
5. The Rose Series: Justin Rose from the 8th tee on
Do you remember when Sergio Garcia won his green jacket in 2017? He overcame Justin Rose (at that time, the recent Olympic champion and not-too-distant U.S. Open winner) for his first and only major. That loss must still smart, because Rose came out with desire in his eyes this morning. Problem was, he stood at plus-two as he walked off the seventh green, looking anything like a contender.
Over the next 11 holes, Rose posted one eagle and seven birdies, to jet past the clubhouse leaders.
Rose’s drive at the eighth split the fairway, and his metal approach caromed off the left mounds (better lucky than good, unless you’re both) to 15 feet. He drained the putt for eagle, returned to even par, and pressed the accelerator to the floor. After birdies at nine and 10, he played a gutsy recovery from the left pine straw. Landing no more than eight yards from the left pond, Rose reached the green and two-putted for par. He conquered Amen Corner with birdies at 12 and 13 to reach four under, then added a trio of chirpies at 15, 16, and 17, to post 65 on the day.
Rose’s number is all the more impressive when you consider that he was the only golfer toward an afternoon tee time to shoot anything near the 60s. If he can take advantage of an earlier tee time on Friday, his four-shot advantage might grow considerably by the weekend.
Apr 9, 2021 at 2:02 pm
November Masters was in 2020 not 2019