Adam Scott put an error at Amen Corner behind him to make a stellar start to his Masters defense.
The oddsmakers’ co-favorite, along with Rory McIlroy, to earn the green jacket come Sunday, finished with a 3-under 69, one shot behind early leader Bill Haas, despite finding trouble at Amen Corner.
The problem came on the par-3 12th, when the first Australian to win the Masters misjudged which club to use and hit his tee shot into the water.
"I’d just received the most incredible ovation as I came to the 12th tee and maybe got caught up in it a bit and hit the worst shot of the day on 12," Scott told ESPN after his round. "I only hit one bad shot I felt like and that was it, in the water, actually my first ever trip into Rae’s Creek, on the 12th."
The ensuing double-bogey dropped Scott to 2-under for the day, but he got one of those shots back with a birdie at the par-4 13th -- which must have taken all his concentration to block out playing partner Jason Dufner’s quad-bogey 9 on the same hole.
"The pace of play was a little slow on the back nine, and in and out of concentration," Scott noted, possibly referring to Dufner’s woes. "Overall, I’m very happy."
Scott started well, with a birdie on the first hole. With two more on the outgoing nine (on Nos. 6 and 8), he made the turn at 3-under. Another birdie on the par-4 10th moved him into first place and he seemed to be on his way to a stress-free opening round.
Despite the error on the 12th, Scott put an extremely efficient day in the books, having missed just four greens and four fairways. Unfortunately his fourth misses for both came on the final hole, where he flew the green with his approach shot, putted up a steep slope, and one-putted from seven feet for par.
McIlroy, playing with Masters rookies Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed one group behind Scott, had almost as proficient a day as the Aussie until the very end.
Rory, who confided, pre-tourney, that blowing the lead in the 2011 Masters brought him to tears, had little to boo-hoo about on Thursday.
"That’s probably the only time I’ve cried over golf," McIlroy told reporters earlier in the week about his very public meltdown in Sunday’s finale.
Thursday, all that was behind the two-time major champion, who blasted his approach shot from a fairway bunker onto the 18th green but three-jacked the putting surface.
"I think anything under par today was a good score," McIlroy said Thursday after finishing. "They set the golf course up very difficult, I thought, for a Thursday ... especially with how firm the greens were getting on the back nine. It was tough to get close to some of these pins and sometimes you're just happy to walk off with your par and move on."
McIlroy, who was struggling mightily inside the ropes and with off-course business issues last year at this time, said his head and game were in totally different places today.
"It's vastly different," he said, comparing himself now to the golfer of 12 months ago. "I came into this week last year just hoping to play well, hoping to find some form, where I come in this year expecting to play well … It's just about going out there and executing the shots and holing the putts. Last year it was hopeful and this year it’s more expectant."
McIlroy will take a 1-under 71 into Friday’s second round.