AUGUSTA, Ga. — Welcome to the Masters morning rundown, your one-stop shop to catch up on the action from Augusta National. Here’s everything you need to know for the morning of April 6.
Spieth sets the pace
What slump? Jordan Spieth racked up seven birdies—including five consecutive on the back—and an eagle on Thursday afternoon to take the Masters lead on Day 1.
It’s not so much that Spieth went low, but how. While he made the most of the 11 greens he hit—on the nine holes where a red number was recorded, six were spurred by approaches within 12 feet—Spieth chalked up two of his best shots to his putter. An eagle putt on the eighth and, of all things, a five-foot bogey putt on the seventh.
“It was a very difficult putt, and I could have dropped to over par,” Spieth said. “And it led to stepping on No. 8 tee feeling like, okay, regrouped, let’s grab three coming in.”
Given his early-season struggles have been attributed to the flat stick—he entered the week ranked 185th in strokes gained: putting—Spieth’s 1.33 putts per green mark was an auspicious sign, and to the rest of the field, a bad omen. It wasn’t a flawless round; he driver was problematic, and he did make three bogeys. As it was routinely pointed out, one good putting round does not erase three months of woe. But confidence breeds more confidence, and on a course that Spieth has made his de facto home, Spieth is brimming with it heading into Friday.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 5, 2018
Finau’s “miraculous” 68
On Wednesday night, it appeared Tony Finau wouldn’t be able to tee it up in Round 1. Which made what transpired on Thursday all the more shocking. As night fell on Augusta National Thursday night, the 28-year-old finds himself near the top of the leader board.
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Despite dislocating his ankle in celebration at the Par-3 Contest, Finau cobbled together a four-under 68, one of the best rounds on Day 1. The tour’s leader in driving distance still had plenty of oomph off the tee, and though his irons weren’t on (hitting just half of the greens in regulation) his putter was, with a field-best 1.28 putts per hole.
He did it with “quite a bit” of tape. And a hell of a lot of heart.
“It was nothing short of a miracle ,” Finau said.
This is Finau’s first appearance at the Masters, and as it’s been noted, this is a tournament not kind to newbies. Considering what he just accomplished on one ankle, taking down that history doesn’t seem too daunting.
Tiger’s so-so Round 1
The buzz never stopped for Tiger Woods’ first Masters round in three years. The problem was, Woods never got going, posting a one-over 73.
The 14-time major winner was able to make two birdies on the final five holes, yet his poor driving continues to rear its ugly head. This was especially evident on the par 5s, which have been the bane of his existence this season (101st in par 5 scoring), failing to make birdie on Augusta National’s long holes.
To his credit, Tiger was okay with his round, and feels like he’s in position to strike.
“Yes, I played in a major championship again, but also the fact that … I got myself back in this tournament, and I could have easily let it slip away,” he said. “I fought hard to get it back in there, and I’m back in this championship. It will be fun the next 54 holes.”
It will. The Masters always is. But Woods needs a solid Friday to make sure he’s part of that mix.
Sergio’s terrible, no good, very bad hole
Sergio Garcia came to Augusta National’s 15th hole at two over in his first round as reigning Masters champ. His score was decidedly higher when walking to the 16th tee. After hitting a 320-yard drive on the 15th, leaving 200 yards and change, the Spaniard’s approach went into the water. As did his fourth. And six. And eighth. And, you guessed it, 10th.
However, the 12th found land, and the 38-year-old sunk the 10-footer. The final damage? An octuple-bogey 13.
“I don’t know,” Garcia responded when asked to explain the hole. “I don’t know what to tell you. It’s one of those things. I feel like—I don’t know, it’s the first time in my career where I make a 13 without missing a shot. Simple as that. I felt like I hit a lot of good shots and unfortunately the ball just didn’t want to stop. I don’t know, you know, it’s one of those things. So it’s just unfortunate, but that’s what it is.”
The 13 tied for the highest score in Masters history, and the highest score on the 15th, “beating” the 11s of Masashi (Jumbo) Ozaki, Ben Crenshaw and Ignacio Garrido. To Garcia’s credit, he bounced back on the 16th with a birdie. But it’s safe to say he won’t be defending his crown.
Day’s suds-soaked shot
That Jason Day’s drive at the first went left is not a shock; that side is a common bailout for players on the opening tee. What makes Day’s shot unique is where his second landed: into a patron’s beer.
The 2015 PGA champ’s approach sailed to the right, clattered around the Georgia pines, hit a patron’s shoulder and landed in a libation. Told by an official that Day needed to identify his ball, the fan obliged, downing the drink to the amusement of his fellow patrons and Day.
Unfortunately for Day, he was unable to save par from the suds-soaked spot, walking away with a bogey. The rest of his front nine wasn’t much better, making the turn in 40 and finishing with a 75. But at least he had a story to cheers to after the round.
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods was on the driving range Tuesday at the Masters after playing nine holes in a foursome that included Phil Mickelson when Rory McIlroy sidled up and made him laugh. McIlroy said he had told Woods, “I never thought I’d see the day: Tiger and Phil playing a practice round at Augusta.”
Yes, it was hardly practice as usual at Augusta National when Mickelson and Woods, the game’s great rivals who had circled each other like birds of prey for more than two decades, played nine holes together ahead of a major for the first time in their storied careers.
It was Mickelson’s idea, and Woods embraced it. “We enjoyed it,” Woods said.
This very public thawing of their relationship proved an irresistible attraction at Augusta National, where, strangely, birdsong is heard but birds are rarely seen. That’s what made the sight at the 13th hole doubly surreal. As Mickelson and Woods were playing the 510-yard par 5, a large crane strutted across the fairway.
The crane joined the huge gallery in time to see Woods hit his second shot to within 40 feet of the pin. The roar after Woods stepped up and sank the eagle putt was deafening. The crowd erupted again after he made a much shorter attempt for another eagle at 15. When the noise quieted to a loud murmur, one patron remarked, “It sounds like Sunday and it’s only a practice round.”
Mickelson and Woods beat the other half of the foursome, Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters champion, and the Belgian Thomas Pieters, in a contest that wasn’t close. “It was very loud and very fun and they hit some real good shots,” Couples said. “Wow.”
Mickelson wore a long-sleeved, button-down shirt that inspired a joke from his playing partner. “The only thing that was missing was a tie,” Woods said.
Woods has gotten the better of Mickelson on the course many more times than not, but according to their peers, it is a tossup as to who is ahead in the war of wit.
“It’s pretty even,” said Jordan Spieth, who has heard them up close at Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups.
He added, “Tiger has more accolades than just about anybody in the sport — you know, nobody wants to go out there and just say, ‘I’ve won this or this or this or this,’ and Phil’s kind of better at getting under people’s skin.”
Woods, 42, is an introverted only child. Mickelson, five years his senior, is an extroverted firstborn with two siblings. The one important thing they have in common — a burning desire to win — is probably the primary factor behind their lack of closeness all these years. Remember: Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer became fast friends only after they stopped banging heads on the golf course.
“Oh, man, he’s very, very, competitive,” Woods said of Mickelson. “He’s feisty. He’s determined. He always wants to win.”
Woods, of course, could have been describing the man in the mirror. Justin Thomas, whom Woods mentored while on the mend from multiple back surgeries, played a practice round with him on Monday. Thomas noted a change in Woods’s demeanor as they prepared to compete with each other. Woods, he said, was “a little harder to get stuff out of than when he was hurt and I was asking him questions.”
Mickelson has tour victories in four decades, but younger players like Thomas, the reigning P.G.A. champion, almost universally looked up to Woods when they were growing up.
“He was winning about every other tournament he played in,” Thomas explained.
In some ways, though, Mickelson had the more auspicious start to his career, winning his first PGA Tour title when he was still an amateur. He has won 43 Tour titles, including five majors, while Woods has 79 tour wins, including 14 majors.
If Mickelson hadn’t played in the same era as Woods, he might have “10 to 12 majors,” Couples said.
Mickelson isn’t so sure. “It’s very possible that that’s the case,” he said, “and it’s also possible that he brought out the best in me and forced me to work harder and focus to ultimately achieve the success that I’ve had.”
Six golfers in their 40s have won a Masters title. Led by Mickelson and Woods, at least a half-dozen here this week have a chance to become the seventh. The others include the 2007 champion, Zach Johnson, 42; Charley Hoffman, 41, who led after the first two rounds last year; Paul Casey, 40, who has top-six finishes in each of the past three years; and Ian Poulter, 42, who secured the final berth with a playoff victory Sunday in Houston.
After Mickelson won the World Golf Championships event in Mexico City last month in a playoff against Thomas, Woods described Mickelson’s first victory since 2013 as “very, very cool to watch.”
Woods tied for second a week later at the Valspar Championship outside Tampa, and Mickelson said he sent Woods a text message after he played his way into contention. Mickelson said he had told Woods that it felt “like it was a different time continuum, because I found myself pulling so hard for him.”
This week they are less rivals than two men united against Father Time, a much more formidable opponent than Couples and Pieters combined.
“I find that I want him to play well,” Mickelson said, “and I’m excited to see him play so well.”
At the start of the practice round, Woods teed off first. Someone asked how the group had decided who got that honor. An impish smile creased Mickelson’s face.
“We just went right in order,” he said. “He has four jackets, I have three jackets, Fred, then Thomas.”
Mickelson winked. “It’s a respect thing.”
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