Young Europeans steal Masters spotlight
Here are five things you need to know from Thursday’s opening round of the 75th Masters:
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1. Leading the way
Rory McIlroy’s bogey-free 65 tied Alvaro Quiros for the first-round lead. Six of McIlroy’s seven birdies came on putts shorter than 10 feet.
McIlroy also led by two after the first round of last year’s British Open at St. Andrews, but shot 80 while playing in heavy winds in the second round. He finished third, his third bronze-medal showing in nine career majors.
“I’ll be thinking about it and I’ll be thinking about how I can do things better (Friday) than I did that day,” he said. “So if I do find myself in a bit of trouble, I’m going to have to stick in there, grind it out, and that’s something that I feel as if I learned to do at St. Andrews.”
2. The Big Two
Both Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods shot under par Thursday but have some work to do to catch the leaders. Mickelson, coming off a victory at the Shell Houston Open, shot 70. Woods was one shot worse.
Mickelson hit just four of 14 fairways Thursday. He’s broken 70 in the first round in only one of his three Masters victories (67, 2010). Woods opened with 70 in three of his four victories at Augusta; he won in 2005 after a first-round 74.
Woods birdied only one of the course’s four par-5s on Thursday. His birdies on 13 and 14 got him to 1 under for the round. He hit six fairways and 12 greens.
“Today’s one of those days where I hit beautiful putts,” Woods said. “I was hitting my lines and they just weren’t going in.”
3. Amateur hour
Amateurs are accustomed to playing in front of friends and family. The Masters’ large crowds are just another challenge they must overcome. When David Chung stepped to Augusta National’s first tee at 7:56 a.m. Thursday, he tried to take deep breaths to relax himself.
“It seemed like there was no oxygen coming into my lungs,” said Chung, a junior at Stanford. “Not only are there people all around you, but there are people lining the fairways. It’s very different.”
Chung eventually grew comfortable with the crowds. He was 2 under through 16 holes before bogeying the final two holes. Asian Amateur champion Hideki Matsuyama and U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein also shot 72 on Thursday.
Jin Jeong, the British Amateur champion, shot 73, while U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Nathan Smith shot 75 and U.S. Amateur Public Links winner Lion Kim shot 76.
4. Comeback kids
World No. 1 Martin Kaymer may have anointed Luke Donald as his pre-tournament favorite, but that didn’t seem to help Donald early Thursday. Donald was 3 over through 13 holes before finishing with a 72. Donald, winner of Wednesday’s par-3 contest, looked likely to continue the curse (no par-3 winner has won the Masters in the same year) until he went birdie-eagle-birdie on Nos. 14 through 16.
“It was a perfect day for scoring and I would have loved to have shot something a little bit lower, but it’s nice to have a little mini-comeback in the middle there,” Donald said. “I just got off to a really slow start. I’ve done that a little bit in majors before, I’m not sure why, but just couldn’t quite let it go.”
He wasn’t the only player to fight his way back to even par after a rough start. Gary Woodland, 3 over after 12 holes, eagled 13 and birdied Nos. 15 through 18 to shoot 69.
Other notable comebacks:
• Rickie Fowler, 2 over after 13, birdied Nos. 14 through 16 and 18 to shoot 70.
• Uihlein was 2 under after three holes, but fell to 2 over with four holes remaining. His birdies on 15 and 18 were good for a 72.
• Jhonattan Vegas, 3 over through 12, also shot 72, thanks in large part to an eagle on 15.
• Anthony Kim was 3 over after 12, but shot 73. He declined to talk to the media after his bogey on No. 18.
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5. Blast from the past
Fred Couples may have left last week’s Houston Open declaring that his troublesome back was “shot,” but the 1992 Masters champ scrambled his way to a 1-under 71. Couples shuffled back and forth throughout his interview to try to ease his back pain.
“I’ve been feeling terrible for two weeks. I’m going to try my best to get through this tournament, then take some time off,” Couples said.
Trevor Immelman, the 2008 champion, shot 69. A wrist injury that required surgery in late 2009 has caused him to struggle since winning the green jacket. He first felt pain about a year before the procedure. He hasn’t had a top-10 on the PGA Tour since the 2008 Tour Championship, though he has shown signs of improvement. He’s made five of six cuts on the PGA Tour this season and finished 12th at Bay Hill, his last start before the Masters.
“My wrist is all the way back,” Immelman said Thursday. “It just became a matter of me getting in the right practice and trying to get rid of all the habits I got into playing injured.”
Even while he was struggling, Immelman found ways to play well at Augusta. He finished 20th in 2009 and 14th in 2010, his second-best showing of the year.
Other notable efforts from past champions: Mickelson (70); Woods (71); Angel Cabrera (71); Sandy Lyle (73); Larry Mize (73).