The Masters got underway at Augusta National Golf Club with Brooks Koepka picking up right where he left off by continuing his dominance in major championships. Koepka shot hassle-free 66 putting him into a tie for the lead with Bryson DeChambeau who went wild on the back nine with 7 birdies in a round he called “magical.”
Koepka and DeChambeau stood atop a star-studded leaderboard with Phil Mickelson sitting one back and Dustin Johnson and Ian Poulter both trailing by two. Further down the leaderboard sat Tiger Woods at 2 under had to grind all day but ultimately felt good about where he stood. “I felt I played well and did all the things I needed to do to post a good number,” Tiger said after a round that left him in a tie for 11th but well within striking range.
Betting favorite Rory McIlroy limped home with a 73 posting bogeys on the final two holes. While he didn’t shoot himself out of the tournament, a strong round is necessary tomorrow or he will be left in the dust. Fan favorite Rickie Fowler shot a 2-under 70 and felt a lower score was possible. “There was five or six under out there, no problem.” Fowler proved prescient as Koepka and DeChambeau came in hours later at six under. Fowler is still waiting on his first major championship finishing runner up last year to Patrick Reid.
The course is always the star of every Masters tournament. If you’ve never been to Augusta National, you should make every effort. It is insanely beautiful and will warm your soul. Even if you’re not a huge golf fan, if you like orderliness, politeness and attention to detail, this is the place for you.
My first thought after seeing Augusta National Golf Club for the first time was: The rich are different from you and me…they’re better.
And if you can’t get to Augusta but still want to tell your friends and neighbors you went, there are really only three things you need to report back to them:
1. The pimento cheese sandwiches are addictive
2. Television doesn’t really show the massive undulations and hills on the greens and fairways
3. Use some quote by Herbert Warren Wind who was a sportswriter back in the 1930’s. If Herbert Warren Wind didn’t exist, Augusta would have to invent him.
Here’s how the conversation could go. You’re Jim who just got back from sleeping in the parking lot at the local Walmart for 2 days although you told everyone you were going to the Masters.
Neighbor- How was Augusta, Jim?
Jim (you) – Oh man, it was amazing
Neighbor- How were the pimento cheese sandwiches?
Neighbor- Does TV convey how steep and hilly the fairways are?
Neighbor- Anything else Jim?
Jim- In golf, as in no other sport, the principal opponent is yourself
Neighbor- Was that you sleeping in your car at Walmart?
Course Marshall Joey H told me the loudest roar he’s ever heard on the grounds was Tiger’s chip in at the 16th hole back in 2005. “I was driving near the back gate and the ground shook the truck,” he said. Tiger went on to win the Masters that day after beating perennially snake bit Chris DiMarco in a playoff.
I ran into Rickie Fowler’s fiancé Allison Stoke while walking with his group. She’s a delightful young lass, quite fetching. Rickie did well for himself.
While on the tee, players take their practice swings very close to other players and caddies. It’s surprising we never hear about anyone getting hit. They are pros though. I will mark this down along with cheerleaders being too close to the court in college basketball and 11-year olds fielding balls at the Home Run Derby as things you’d think would be dangerous but nobody ever gets hurt. Knock on wood of course.
I noticed people are very well behaved here at Augusta because they want to be invited back. I think that’s a good lesson overall and it works both ways. If you want to have nice things, you need to keep people in line.
I was checking out the green on the 3rd hole when the groundskeepers came out with their hand carts to roll the green. I asked about how fast they plan on having greens set for the tournament. The head greens keeper came over, sidled up next to me and quietly said, “Mind your own business.” I tried to tell him I hate reporters too but he wasn’t hearing it. Before I slinked away, I saw that the 3rd green is insanely sloped at the front. If you don’t hit it 45 feet deep into the green the ball will roll 25 yards back into the fairway.
The crowd at the practice round was really large after rain showers in the morning had dissipated and the sun came out. At one point there was a bottle neck at the fairway crossing on the 15th hole that made people start to get crazy. There must have been 1200 people in the area and it caused a long, 10-minute wait. Well, most of these people aren’t used to being inconvenienced and there was some rumbling in the crowd. Pretty soon, people took it upon themselves to find an alternate route around which led to more bottle necks. People were getting frustrated. It was hot, muggy and crowded. We were on the verge of a small-scale Lord of the Flies situation. Then, much like everything else at Augusta, the problem just went away. Another outlet was made available and people calmed down. Such is life in paradise.
Jordan Spieth struggled today shooting 76 but that doesn’t take away with what he almost did in the final round last year. It had a chance to be the greatest round in the history of golf. He came to the 18th tee needing birdie to shoot 62. It would have gotten him into a playoff with eventual champion Patrick
Reid. Unfortunately, his tee ball barely clipped an overhanging tree on the 18th fairway and dropped straight down. He ended up making bogey. What could have been.
I did see some guards up in the azalea bushes. The story is they are up there so nobody messes with the iconic flower. To answer your question of how many people do they need to guard the azaleas. The answer is at least two.
Fanny packs are back in style by the way. Although I was the only one wearing one at Augusta, a few people gave me nods as if to say “smart and practical- good job, man”. It’s akin to putting leashes on your children at amusement parks.
I sat in on some press conferences and was able to ask Open Champion Francesco Molinari a few questions. The Masters interview room is amazing as you can imagine and each reporter’s ID badge has a signaling device on it so that no matter where you sit in the press conference, they can read your information and call you by name. The microphone in front of you also is automatically turned on after a button push by the moderator. Well, I didn’t know that and when they called on me after raising my hand, I kept pushing a non-existent button at the base of the microphone. Francesco sat patiently while I frantically looked for the “on” button. Finally, someone nearby mentioned the mic was automatic and I asked Francesco about his pressure putts on the 18th green from the 2019 Bay Hill Invitational, the 2018 Open Championship to the 2017 PGA at Quail Hollow. Despite the technical difficulties, it was a really good question. I forgot his answer.
I also made my way over to the seedier side of Augusta to see John Daly’s traveling roadshow at the Hooters on Washington Road, just a stone’s throw away from the gates of the Masters. John parks his RV next to the Hooters and sells t-shirts and hats. And he hustles. It’s a pretty wild scene. You buy a hat or t-shirt and can get your picture taken with Long John if you want. He’s always accommodating and everyone is having a good time. He has received dome flak from people that it looks desperate but I don’t see a down side. Everybody is having fun. Golf fans are meeting one of the most iconic golfers ever and John is making a few bucks. Win, win, win. I originally came to ask John if he would sit down for an interview but he had no time for me. Fair enough. It is a pretty chaotic scene and I think I left without paying for my hat. Sorry John. I’ll get you next time.
Follow Dan Redmond on Twitter @danfromdc