The Masters Review: Day One – Ruthless Spieth races out in front
Jordan Spieth got off to a flyer on the first day of the 2018 Masters, as Tony Finau and Rory McIlroy impressed. Gregor Kerr sums up Thursday’s action at The Masters.
With Vijay Singh and Mark O’Meara racing into an early lead at the start of the day, and Tiger Woods amongst the favourites with Phil Mickelson, you would be forgiven for thinking the year was 1999.
Jordan Spieth is chasing green jacket number two and landed five birdies in a row from 13 through to 17, leaving him six under and in the lead going into Friday’s play, despite a well-recovered bogey at the last. He looked like the Spieth of old and seemed untouchable for much of the back nine, at his very ruthless and clinical best. His management of the course at Augusta is as accomplished as anybody on the PGA Tour.
He rarely gives up leads, with the exception of 2016, once he gets his nose in front. Last year’s Open winner has now led at some point for each of the last seven rounds at The Masters. He also has now birdied every hole at Augusta National apart from the 11th. The statistics become more impressive every year. Early days, but he is on the right track to avenge the hurt of two years ago.
Justin Thomas was also amongst the most fancied players of the week. However, his disappointing 74 leaves him two over and with a task to claw back the lead. A double bogey on the 16th will have no doubt left him kicking himself. With three days left to play though it wouldn’t be a surprise if he found his way back into contention, but he has left himself with an uphill battle if he wants to claim his second major victory.
Henrik Stenson was one of the outside favourites and did himself no harm, finishing three under and tied in second place with the likes of Patrick Reed, Rory McIlroy and Adam Hadwin, with the latter competing in just his second Masters.
The Canadian has been making steady progress in recent weeks with his last four tournament finishes standing at 17th, 12th, 9th and 6th. It would be one of the tournament’s standout stories if he could continue that upwards trajectory.
Tony Finau was one of the talking points from Wednesday’s Par-3 contest. Not only did he sink an ace, but he folded his ankle like a garden chair in the ensuing celebrations, popping it back into place moments later. It might have been a brief fright but the 34th ranked player in the world admitted feeling pain in his warm-up before the opening round. Despite this, he finished four under and tied for second place, keeping his cool for a lengthy par putt on the 18th. A remarkable score given his conditions just 24 hours before.
The headline grabber of the week, Tiger Woods, recovered well after a sliced first drive, his first tee-shot in over 1000 days at The Masters, making par with good second shot curling around a set of trees. By the end of the back nine ‘The Miracle Man’ was 3 over, and the fairy-tale comeback looked as if it was coming just too soon. However, he did recover with two birdies on the back nine to finish one over, getting par on all of the 5s. Most realists would have accepted that scoreline at the start of the day’s play.
Sergio Garcia’s title defence quite literally sunk in front of his very eyes on the 15th hole, when he hit five (5) balls straight into the water, eventually carding an incredible 13 shots for the hole and dropping eight shots. For comparison, the last time the Spaniard played that hole he made an eagle three.
It seemed like an action replay, as each shot slowly trickled down the rapid green and into the drink just like the last. The wind at that time of the day no doubt played its part in his cruel slice of luck, although that did change as the day worn on. One of the strongest examples on what can happen in a space of a freak few minutes.
It was reminiscent of Spieth, who blew up on the same hole on the final of stretch of the Sunday of 2016, surrendering a comfortable lead, except this time is seemed Sergio’s curse was endless. His score was the highest ever recorded on a hole at Augusta National. Regardless of how he does this week, it will leave us all thinking “what if”. It was a meltdown, albeit an unfortunate one, of epic proportions.
At least he birdied the 16th.
The unforgiving 15th then claimed another victim, as Marc Leishman was left with a double bogey, although unlike Sergio he had already built up a solid lead, and four under finished as two under. A positive start, which could have been even better. You would expect plenty of others to face the same issues as the weekend rolls on. Several players did catch on though, and began to place their second shot towards the back of the hole and just beyond the treacherous green.
Amateur Doug Chim produced a memorable eagle from 179 yards out, his second of the day, on the 18th to leave him level par, the highest finish of all the amateurs.
The final few groups began to piece together some momentum on the back nine. The group of Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar all landed shots just a few feet away from the hole on 16, with all three converting for birdies. Kuch, Mickelson and Rory McIlroy found their groove near the end, many of the picks for favourite this year. Rahm couldn’t follow their lead though and found water on the 16th.
The same could be said for Louis Oosthuizen, who bagged five birdies on the back nine. Anything level par could have been considered a solid day’s work. The fact that few of the early groups failed to register a commanding lead may have provided some inspiration to those out later on the course.
It is important to remember that so much can change within the space of a day. Last year saw Charley Hoffman lead the first day and finished in 22nd. Nothing is guaranteed after a day.