The first round at Augusta National is in the books. Here are nine things that stood out from Day 1 of the Masters.
This has been a week of firsts for William McGirt, who at 37 is easily the oldest of 19 first-time Masters participants. He is soaking it all in. He made sure to snap pictures with the family before the par-3 tournament was washed out. He has hit all the concession stands, he ran up a sizeable bill buying merchandise in the clubhouse pro shop, and he took in the ceremonial first drives of Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, even though his own tee time was more than three hours away.
McGirt will also forever be known as the first player to be interviewed in the palace that is the new press building. The clubhouse leader after firing an opening-round 69, he was a total delight.
He is here because he won last June at the Memorial, the event in Dublin, Ohio, hosted by Jack Nicklaus, in his 165th start on the PGA Tour. During a chance encounter on Tuesday, McGirt said Nicklaus told him, “If you can win at my place, you can win here.”
McGirt had twice been to the Masters as a “patron” (his word, without hesitation), but while he had opportunities to play Augusta National, he said he wasn’t going to do so without a formal invitation. “I didn’t want to play it until I had a reason,” he told the assembled media. “I don’t like playing meaningless rounds of golf.”
How’s this for meaningful? In his first competitive round at the Masters, McGirt offset his only bogey with three birdies in blustery conditions. He described his game as “sneaky short” and added, “I know what my limitations are.” Typical of a player who has grinded to make it on Tour, he said he welcomes difficult conditions. He kept his round going with a 15-foot par save after drawing a buried lie in a bunker at the 7th and an eight-foot downhill par putt at the 10th that he said he struck as if it was a one-footer. He capped his day with another par save at the last after missing the green left.
He and his wife, Sarah, started their day with the pomp and circumstance on the 1st tee. Of course, he wanted to watch Nicklaus and Player, but he also wanted to pay tribute to Arnold Palmer. “We were not going to miss the ceremonial tee shots,” McGirt said matter-of-factly.
He’ll be up again early on Friday, going out in the first group at 8 a.m. along with Rod Pampling. Another first.
When Jordan Spieth’s tee shot at the par-4 7th came to rest a yard right of the fairway, he didn’t have a lot of options. The branches of a short, skinny pine were between his ball and the hole. He looked up. He got into a catcher squat. Nothing. He pulled one club, then another. Finally he turned to caddie Michael Greller and said, “Tell me what to do.” Spieth went back to the bag for a more straight-faced iron, punched his ball into the front-left bunker, then almost holed the sand shot for birdie.
RULES, RULES, RULES
As we continue to hear pleas to simplify the rules, this scenario played out at the 12th hole: Jeunghun Wang was even par when he arrived at the par-3, but his tee shot sailed over the green and into the pines and bushes halfway up the hill. Fearing the ball might be lost he played a provisional over the green, apparently into the back bunker. A five-minute search for the first ball proved fruitless, so Wang made the lonely walk back across the Hogan Bridge to the tee. “He lost the provisional too!,” one fan standing behind the tee said. A couple of others agreed.
In fact, Wang was returning to the tee because he had found the first ball and declared it unplayable. At that point the provisional was no longer in play. He hit his third shot into the front bunker, blasted out and missed the putt for double. He doubled the par-5 13th, and like that, he was five over. He would sign for a 78.
In the next group, Martin Kaymer’s towering tee shot at the 12th came to rest inside the yellow hazard line. That the ball didn’t trickle back into Rae’s Creek led at least one fan to speculate that it might have plugged. “What’s the rule on that?” somebody else asked. “Does he get a drop?”
Short answer: Not when the ball is inside the hazard line.
Do something, USGA.
At 2:43 p.m ET, 15 players were tied for the lead, at one under par.
DON’T SLEEP ON …
Since the start of the 2012 Masters, no player has made more birdies at Augusta National than Justin Rose. The 2013 U.S. Open champion, Rose had five more birdies during an opening-round 71.
STAT OF THE DAY
Take your pick:
Charley Hoffman posted a seven-under-par 65, despite a pair of three-putts and ball in the water at 13.
Charley Hoffman made nine birdies.
Charley Hoffman birdied all four of the par-3s.
Charley Hoffman’s score was four shots better than anyone else in the field.
For those who wonder how he’ll hold up with the lead, consider that Hoffman tied for 9th at the 2015 Masters and in his two other appearances he was 27th and 29th, in 2011 and ’16. He simply love sthe place.
“When I step on the property, it feels good,” Hoffman said. “I’m a very visual person. [The course] fits my eye.”
He also likes playing in the wind, as evidenced by his victories at the Hope in 2007 and in San Antonio last year.
Augusta National shuts down for the summer, but the fall is prime playing season. The 2028 Ryder Cup needs a home. Can you imagine the fireworks that alternate shot would generate?
FOR MY MONEY
Forget the pimento cheese sandwich. The best food on the property is the peach ice-cream sandwich. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to find one.
CALL ME NUTS
Nobody saw a 65 coming, and there was plenty of splendid play turned in when the conditions were at their worst on Thursday. Somebody in the early wave will go low on Friday, perhaps even threaten 63.