Europeans at top (and bottom) of leaderboard after opening round

Europeans at top (and bottom) of leaderboard after opening round

Martin Kaymer shot s six-over 78 on Thursday at Augusta National.
Robert Beck/SI

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Twenty-six Europeans jetted into Augusta to try to end a 12-year winless streak stretching back to Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999. Four are in the top 13.

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and Spain’s Alvaro Quiros sit at the top of the pile after seven-under-par 65s.

“Everything I’ve been doing since I got the clubs out again after the New Year on the 7th of January has just been working towards Augusta,” McIlroy said. “And it has paid off today. Hopefully it can pay off for the next three.”

Quiros continued to show the fine form that won the Dubai Desert Classic in February. He had never shot lower than 75 in two previous missed cuts at the Masters, but he went out in 33 shots then played the back nine in 32 with five birdies and one bogey.

“It’s about time to do it. Finally, I played well,” said the big-hitting, big-smiling Spaniard with the razor-blade sideburns. “The best club in my bag was no doubt my putter.”

Drive 300-plus for show, putt for dough, right?

It wasn’t all good news for the European contingent, however. The first round was a disaster for World No. 1 Martin Kaymer: out in 38, back in 40 for a six-over-par 78. That’s six bogeys, one double-bogey and just two birdies. The Masters demands a draw. Kaymer fades. Simple as that. He fought his Augusta Achilles’ heel all day but to no avail.

“There’s not really a game plan,” Kaymer admitted. “I don’t really know how to play this course. Maybe I’ve got to sit down with Bernhard Langer and ask him for advice. He won here twice [in 1985 and 1993].”

Kaymer has missed the cut in all three of his previous Masters appearances. He appears likely to extend that record to four. Kaymer is tied 93rd down in the dirt with former veteran champions Ian Woosnam and Ben Crenshaw. His No. 1 ranking is now in danger too.

England’s Ross Fisher had a brighter day than Kaymer. He was the early leader in the clubhouse with a three-under-par 69, and he is now four shots behind McIlroy and Quiros and T7. Fisher teed off in the very first group so he got to watch Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus start the 75th Masters with their ceremonial tee shots.

“It was a special treat to witness two legends like Arnie and Jack get it under way,” he said.

Fisher is on “pager alert” as his wife is expecting their second baby. The same thing happened at the 2009 British Open. There seems to be a timing issue in the Fisher household.

“The first baby was due the week of the Open whereas the second one is due after the Masters,” Fisher said. “She hung on and I didn’t last time. Hopefully I can hang on this time.”

There was redemption and resurrection for Sergio Garcia, perhaps, among the Augusta pines. The Spaniard has been plummeting down the world ranking faster than a downhill putt on Augusta’s ninth hole, but his one-time cheery disposition has been showing signs of coming back. He even smiled after a first-round 69 despite a bogey at 18.

“It’s never nice to bogey the last,” he said. “But any time you shoot under par on this course, you can’t be too unhappy about it.”

His highlight was a drive and 6-iron for eagle on 13. It did wonders for his sometimes-brittle confidence.

“It’s not at its highest but it’s getting better and it’s showing,” Garcia said. “There are moments when a couple of not-great thoughts might come into your head, but I guess that’s the way the game is.”

Garcia is T7 with Fisher, four shots off the lead.

Graeme McDowell, the reigning U.S. Open champion, ended the first round with a two-over-par 74.

“Pace was my problem,” he said. “The first nine holes I could barely get a putt to the hole. And then I sort of overreacted and started blasting everything on the back nine. It’s funny, this golf course, you get it below the hole into the grain and they’re incredibly slow. Just don’t tell anybody in a green jacket that I said that. You get above the hole down grain and they’re ridiculously quick.”

McDowell three-putted 10, 13, 14 and 15.

There was worse news for three-time major champion Padraig Harrington. A 77 and a sore neck does not bode well for the second round for the Dubliner, who is T91.

“I nearly pulled out before I started,” he said. “I haven’t even come close to swinging the club. I was swinging left-handed, just warming up, and [my neck] just clicked. Such is life.”

Spare a thought for Henrik Stenson. Troubled by losing several million dollars that he had invested in the Stanford bank that went bust, the Swede stacked up an 11-over-par 83, that included an 8 at the par-three fourth on the way to playing the front nine in 45 swipes. He is 99th and dead last.