Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Mix Of Not-Quites And Brain Cramps At The Masters: Opening Round, 2014

 Opening Round of the 2014 Masters, Thursday, April 10
(This is unedited, but, well, there you go. Might be a bogey. We'll see...)

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The 2014 Masters is missing a thing or two.

Ice damage killed the Eisenhower Tree on 17 a few weeks ago.

A bad back got Tiger a few days ago.

Speaking of animals, Monday it rained on Augusta National like cats and Georgia Bulldogs. A gray, soaking, pine pollen washer.

But like Ike’s Tree and Tiger Woods, the bad weather and all its effects were gone by Thursday’s opening round, leaving the joint open for some early April golf magic, all the history and beauty and legend the year’s first major championship is so famous for.

You know: all that lore stuff.

Hold your horses, though. None of that happened in the opening round, which began bright, damp and cold but became warm by mid-afternoon. Had Thursday been Sunday at The Masters, we’d be recalling a day of close-but-not-quites, a day of champions having brain cramps and newcomers pretending to be Jack Nicklauses and Nick Faldos.

As it was, this will surely be forgotten by whatever happens Sunday. Unless you were a participant. Then you’ll remember how you might have taken the first step toward either winning or losing this 80th Masters, whose leaderboard at present looks like a sandwich, with unknowns the bread and winners of majors the meat and cheese.

Bill Haas, son of 9-time PGA Tour winner Jay Haas and great-nephew of 1968 Masters champion Bob Goalby, is alone at the top with a bounce-back 68: He started and ended the round bogey-birdie. Haas played solidly -- no surprise since he grew up around the game and since it’s only the first round -- but golf is golf. He led after the first round of last week’s Shell Houston Open -- and finished tied for 37th.

One stroke back are defending Masters champ Adam Scott, 2010 British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen and 2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson, tied at 69. You might remember that Oosthuizen was beaten by Watson in a playoff for the Masters title only two Aprils ago, and Scott won in a playoff last year. Haas probably remembers that too. In other words, the crowd just one shot out is notable.

Another familiar name leads a pack of seven golfers at 70, and that name is Stadler. Like Haas, he is the son of the familiar father. Kevin Stadler’s dad, Craig, Walrus-ed his way to this tournament’s championship in 1982. Baby Walrus closed with two birdies and five straight pars to complete a steady 35-35 round.

With a lot of golf left, some other worthy items:

The woes for 2007 Masters champ Zach Johnson continue. He was four over through six, shot 40 on the front and finished with a 78;

For old-school moments, 1988 Masters champ Sandy Lyle actually held a share of the lead in mid-morning with three straight birdies, and Tom Watson, a two-time Masters champion making his 40th Masters appearance, nearly eagled 15;

Also playing with youthful glee was seasoned Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, who made the turn at 4-under before going bogey, double-bogey and ending in a tie with eight others at one-under. About smoking his pre-round cigar while “stretching” and hitting range balls, the pony-tailed Jimenez said, “Well, it was nice. I smoked it to hide myself in smoke."

If only Jason Dufner smoked cigars. The fan favorite from Auburn shot 36 on the front, 44 on the back. Does that equal 80? The par-5 13th was particularly cruel as Dufner flew over the green in two, hit his third shot into the water, took a penalty, went into the water again, and … well, trust me. It equaled a 9;

Finally, another fan and tournament favorite is Phil Mickelson. His high score was “only” a 7, and it came on the 15th, a hole he hasn’t scored worse than par on since Ike’s Tree was but a pine knot. He also three-putted No. 7 for the first time in his Masters career, and from only 8 feet.

On the other hand, he had his Phil moments, as he always does. On No. 10, he sank a long putt that broke left to right and downhill. It took a hard right-angle turn halfway to the hole, then crept in and fell as the three-time Masters champion raised his arms level with the green and said, “Are you kidding me?”

He finished with a four-over, no-kidding 76.

But hey, we’re just getting started. Three rounds remain, good weather is forecast, and 52 players are no more than seven strokes off the lead. Should be fun. No kidding.