It’s just a green jacket, but for the past two Masters champions, it seems to have acted like Superman’s cape on Thursday.
Adam Scott and Bubba Watson felt bulletproof as they put themselves in a position to expand their wardrobes with another green jacket after formidable rounds of 3-under-par 69 on a difficult opening day at Augusta National.
And both the first Aussie to win here and the 2012 champion credited their good play to the fact they know they’ll be coming back here for many years.
"There’s no doubt winning the Masters last year had me a little more comfortable on the first tee than I’ve ever been in the past, because I didn’t have the legs shaking and nerves jangling for six or seven holes like usual, so that was enjoyable for me today," said Scott.
He missed his opening drive a little right, but his approach shot was right on the money, coming to rest barely 3 feet from the flag and resulting in a birdie.
Watson was flawless, using the putter all 18 times despite technically missing two greens in regulation. He had the only bogey-free round on Thursday – the first bogey-free round of his career at any major.
"It’s different playing here when you already have a green jacket," he said. "You know you’re coming back next year no matter what happens, so you play a little different. You’ve got nothing to lose. You’re already a Masters champ, and no one can take that away from you."
Scott made five birdies on the day but saw his only real bad swing — a weak 9-iron into the signature 12th hole — drop into Rae’s Creek, and then he compounded the error by missing a 4-footer for bogey.
Still, he didn’t let the double bogey derail him. Again, the fact that he’s a past champion comforted him.
"There is a certain sense of freedom in the way you play (as a past champion)," he said.
"No doubt you can see that in the way Phil (Mickelson)’s played around here since breaking through and hitting some incredible shots that maybe if he had not had the success or the wins, he might not have hit being a little tighter."
Watson acknowledged he didn’t do well last year because he didn’t know how to handle the hoopla surrounding the defending champion.
"There’s so much you’re doing when you’re defending champ, and my mind can’t handle it," he conceded. "Adam seems to be doing pretty well with it. But for me, it was just overwhelming, the Champions dinner, everybody still congratulating you, so I just never got the focus."
After a disappointing 2013, Watson has gotten himself ready. He didn’t get much publicity coming into this Masters — a fact not lost on one of the game’s more sensitive souls — but that was because he shot an 83 and withdrew from the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
But the WD came because of debilitating allergies and not his golf game. Indeed, he already has five top-10 finishes this season, including a win at venerable Riviera, and has climbed to 12th in the world rankings.
"I’m coming back with the take that I want the jacket again," he said.
"I’m coming back with a different mindset, full of energy. I haven’t had any media this week, because nobody cares about the guy a couple of years ago. So it’s been good."
Scott, meanwhile, probably should have had the lead instead of being a shot behind Bill Haas.
He three-putted both par 5s on the inward nine for par and failed to get up and down out of the greenside bunker on the par-5 second.
"I’m not going to complain about my round . . . but it’s disappointing to three-putt them both," he said. "I would have maybe accepted one and a two-putt on the other. The par 5s are a big key for me here, and I didn’t take advantage of them today and shot 69, so that’s a good indication of the quality of my play today."
He described his round as "a lot of good shots and some good, positive memories."
"I hope I get on one of those runs [where] I’m one of the guys who kind of develops an affinity for the golf course like Phil Mickelson has, and many other guys have, as well, over the years," Scott said.
"I feel the course sets up well for me, and while it’s like this, I’ve got to take advantage of it."