Fred Couples plays a shot during the first round of the Masters.
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
In a tournament packed with a bunch of young newcomers, the 50-and-over crowd made a bit of a stand in the first round of the Masters.
Miguel Angel Jimenez was leading the tournament for a time before stumbling on the back nine. Fred Couples was on the leaderboard himself before tying the 50-year-old Jimenez with a 1-under 71 that left both players three shots off the lead.
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And former champion Bernard Langer managed to shoot even par in his 31st Masters.
”A 72 is not that shabby,” the 56-year-old Langer said.
Not shabby at all, though the Masters is the one major championship where older players tend to do well. Jack Nicklaus finished in a tie for sixth here at the age of 58 in 1998, while Couples always seems to be hanging around the lead in the early rounds.
Power still counts, but sometimes the older players can make up for it by knowing where to put the ball and being crafty.
”It’s hard for anyone. There are a lot of young guys that can hit the ball a long ways,” said Jimenez, who was 4 under and in the lead before making bogey on No. 11 and double on 12 after hitting it in the water. ”I don’t hit the ball that far, but I hit it and it goes straight to the flag, you know. It’s nice to see that I’m being competitive with all the guys.”
Couples, who won the 1992 Masters, said he feels like he can still play Augusta National and compete with younger players, though he concedes he would have to get some breaks to put on another green jacket on Sunday.
”Can a 50-year-old win here?” the 54-year-old Couples asked. ”I think so. I’m one of them.”
Bill Haas didn’t let blood get in the way of work. He fired his brother last month and picked up a new caddie for the Masters.
”I needed to switch it up,” Haas said. ”My brother has been on the bag a bunch for a few years, and I think I needed a change.”
Jay Haas Jr. has been hired and fired before — just like any other player-caddie relationship — and Bill, his younger brother, is known to be tough to work for at times. Plus, Bill didn’t just go find anyone from the caddie yard.
He is using Scott Gneiser, who was with David Toms when he won the 2001 PGA Championship. Gneiser started this year working for PGA Tour rookie John Peterson until getting fired, about the time Bill put his brother on the bench.
The tricky little Par-3 12th at Augusta National played tougher than it has in years.
The 155-yard hole, which has water and a bunker in front, proved to be the second-hardest on the course in the opening round Thursday. Nicknamed ”Golden Bell,” the hole yielded six birdies, 56 pars, 26 bogeys, six doubles and three triples. The only hole tougher was the par-4 No. 11. The last time the 12th played as hard was 2009.
It was the only blemish on defending champion Adam Scott’s scorecard.
Scott doubled the 12th after his tee shot caught the bank in front of the green and hopped back into Rae’s Creek.
”I had just received the most incredible ovation as I came to the 12th tee — and I hit my worst shot of the day,” Scott said. ”I think that’s my first-ever trip into Rae’s Creek.”
Three former champions who have combined for 13 wins in the Masters have different ideas about what should happen to the 17th hole now that the Eisenhower Tree is gone.
”I think I would probably put a tree right back where the tree was try to get it about as similar as it was when it was taken out,” Arnold Palmer said.
Jack Nicklaus, the six-time champion who is most heavily involved in golf course design, said he would pay closer attention to the hole beyond where Ike’s tree was.
”It does look a little naked,” Nicklaus said. ”It’s not only Ike’s tree, but Little Ike and a couple other trees were gone. But they really had no effect on the play of the golf tournament as it relates to the tournament. . . . Sure, you could put a tree back. But I personally think that the hole needs definition a little further up, not back.”
Gary Player said no other tree has had greater significance on a golf course. That said, Player is not a big fan of trees that come into play off the tee.
”As much as I had for the name attached to the tree, I think it’s best that the tree does not be put back,” Player said.
Augusta National chairman Billy Payne said the club would move slowly in figuring out the best change, if any.
Luke Donald’s 7-over 79 — his highest score ever at the Masters — included a two-stroke penalty.
After Donald left his third shot in a green-side bunker at par-4 ninth, he grounded his club before his next stroke. That incurred a two-stroke penalty that left him with a quadruple-bogey 8. He rebounded with seven pars and a bogey over his next eight holes, but ended the round with a bogey that left him just shy of 80.
Jason Dufner carded the highest score of the day, a quadruple-bogey 9 at the 13th. Things unraveled in a hurry, too, after reaching the green-side rough in two. Dufner’s third shot slid past the hole, just missing the pin by a few inches, and didn’t stop until it rolled off the green, down an embankment and into a creek.
With part of his ball above water, Dufner tried to chip out from there, but the shot came up short and rolled back in. He dropped from there, then chunked his sixth shot well short. He chipped on and two-putted for his highest score by far in 13 rounds at the Masters.
Dufner finished at 8 over.
Eight players shot 80 or higher: amateur Chang-woo Lee (80), Hideki Matsuyama (80), Jason Dufner (80), Graham DeLaet (80), amateur Jordan Niebrugge (81), Craig Stadler (82), Ben Crenshaw (83) and Branden Grace (84). . . . Bubba Watson (3-under 69) had the only bogey-free round of the day. . . . Of the six amateurs in the field, three of them — Matthew Fitzpatrick, Oliver Goss and Garrick Porteous — shot 76.