The Masters is one day old, and while Tiger Woods' absence took some steam out of things last week, it's still the greatest golf tournament in the world and as soon as play started on Thursday, we moved on from the Tiger story. Here are some quick highlights from the opening 18 at Augusta National.
Bill Haas took the lead with an impressive round of 68 in very tough conditions, but the smoothest round for me was Bubba Watson's 69. There were no slip-ups, no implosions, and very little drama. The 2012 champion is back playing good golf, with a win and two second-place finishes in the first quarter of the year. And Bubba knows exactly how he wants to navigate Augusta.
Thursday was a smooth bogey-free round, and very un-Bubba-like, as he conservatively worked his way around and avoided taking chances that would prompt quick crooked numbers. Watson did what he always does and bombed away on the par-5s to convert those birdie chances at Nos. 13 and 15 and get into the house at 3-under. It was the most impressive round to me, and if he plays that way throughout, he'll have his second green jacket in the last three years.
There won't be back-to-back majors for the reigning PGA Champion, Jason Dufner. The proud Auburn man imploded at the 13th hole, a par-5 birdie opportunity that can go bad quickly up around the green. Dufner pitched right through the green and then needed to get up and in for a par. Instead, he popped it up and the ball that was in the hazard but out of the water came right back, this time fully submerging in the drink and forcing a drop.
That's how you make a quadruple bogey, going from 3 on the edge of the green to 9 in the hole. Dufner finished with a 44 on the second nine and a round of 80. He's done, and we are worse for it.
It's hard to overlook Phil Mickelson's ridiculous bombed-in bender on the 10th green, but this eagle chip by Sang-Moon Bae was just as impressive. The 15th hole is one of a couple eagle opportunities on the second nine, and the easiest scoring hole on the course. But Bae didn't exactly set himself up for a red number, airmailing the green and needing to delicately chip back up without running through and into the water in front. Last year's Byron Nelson winner just decided to drain it, for an eagle the hard way.
Sergio Garcia was a runaway winner for me, somehow missing the ENTIRE cup, like not even brushing the edge, from what looked to be just outside two feet.
I yelled out in pain as soon as I saw it. That's your classic Sergio jab, and I wrote yesterday that it was the perfect exhibit for the argument that he'll never win the Masters.
Alan Shipnuck is usually not one for blind reverence of all things Augusta, or a propagator of the usual golf treacle. His pre-tournament story on how Augusta botched Tiger Droppings last year definitely infuriated the green-jacketed, and sometimes retaliatory, group just a week before he'd be roaming around the club (read it here). His tweets are usually pretty biting too, and he brought heat yesterday with a shot at Dustin Johnson, who doesn't have the reputation for being the most cerebral guy:
So does the headless horseman. RT @blytham Never thought I'd say this, but Bubba has a better head on his shoulders than DJ.— Alan Shipnuck (@AlanShipnuck) April 10, 2014
Lee Westwood went on a fun little adventure off the course in the Augusta woods at No. 13. I documented his journey here, but this photo of his caddie trying to get the player a tool on the other side of the creek is some real Oregon Trail ingenuity. Here's Golf Digest's J.D. Cuban with a wonderful action shot:
Getting back across the creek and onto the course was just as fun, as this GIF captured.
Predictions for Friday's 2nd Round
Matthew Fitzpatrick, a 19-year-old amateur who looks like he's 13 or so, will be dinged a shot for slow play by ref John Paramor and the co-leader's ball will hit the flagstick at 15, carom back into the water, and he'll unknowingly take an illegal drop to sign an incorrect scorecard. That's what happens on Friday at the Masters, right?
I can't imagine we'll match the craziness of last year, when even Lil' Wayne had to tweet about the Masters, but I do think we'll have some nice stories heading into the weekend.
Fred Couples will be on the first page of the leaderboard. Phil Mickelson will make a charge to sneak over the cut line and keep his shot at a fourth jacket alive. Rory McIlroy will be sitting in the top 5. But it will be defending champ, Adam Scott, in the lead over Bubba Watson and trying to become the fourth player to go back-to-back at the Masters.
Speed walk to your seat, couch, or desk chair and settle in for another full day.