Henrik Stenson turned 36 on Thursday, and a very obvious birthday wish almost came true in the first round of the Masters. The Swede led the first major of the year for 17 holes before a snowman sent him tumbling down the leaderboard.
After two inches of early-week rain, Augusta National was the perfect birthday gift for Stenson. A generally hard and fast course was softer and more receptive Thursday, allowing Stenson to take full advantage early in the day. His bogey-free 31 on the front nine included two eagles, on the par-5 second and eighth holes.
Stenson continued his assault at the National with a birdie on the difficult par-4 10th hole to move to 6 under and firmly take the lead. Even a bogey on the 14th hole was erased quickly with a birdie on the par-5 15th to move Stenson back to 6 under. Still, Stenson’s downfall came on the back nine, as he couldn’t reproduce the magic he had on the front.
“After 11, I didn’t hit one fairway off the tee,” Stenson said. “And that’s obviously going to cost you at some point, even though I didn’t expect it to cost as much as it did on 18.”
Stenson arrived at the 18th tee at 5 under after a three-putt bogey on the 16th hole, still a pretty good birthday present. That’s when he pulled his tee shot left into the trees — an area reserved for birds and squirrels.
After finding the ball, Stenson had few options, and tried to keep the next shot off the pine straw low and under the tree branches. It resulted in contact that wasn’t quite solid, and the ball found more pine straw. Stenson remained 230 yards away from the hole, and now in an area where patrons had worn down the soggy ground. He received no relief and pulled a 4-iron, which flew just more than 100 yards from one side of the fairway to the other, leaving Stenson with steam coming out of his ears as he slammed the ground with his club.
“The worst part of 18 was really over-hitting the wedge (136 yards) and hitting it up in the crowds behind the green,” he said. “Then it took me four to get down from there. The fifth shot that I played is a foot from being stiff, really. Small margins, and obviously with hacking a few earlier, that just made it worse. Finishing with an 8 — I don’t think I’ve ever done that.”
In 18 rounds at the Masters, Stenson has never broken 70 — he shot that in the second round of 2009.
Stenson’s snowman was the first since Camilo Villegas recorded one in 2007. That was in the second round, and the Colombian missed the cut that year.
“The only thing I possibly could have done was to accept (the bad lie),” Stenson said. “Not giving it a go with a 4-iron … and instead maybe played a 7-iron up there and leave myself a pitch. I probably wouldn’t have made worse than 6 then. But I guess that’s the difficult part here, accepting your mistakes and even playing for a double bogey.”