For some, the burden of defending a championship can be overwhelming. For Adam Scott, it was pure joy – at least for a day.
With a Green Jacket already in his collection, Scott felt a sense of calm that carried over to the golf course. The result: a three-under 69 that got the laid-back Australian off to just the kind of start he was looking for at the Masters. Now, to keep it going for three more days.
“Having won last year, in some ways, has taken a little pressure off me,” Scott said. “I kind of felt like what was the worst that can happen? I’m still going to be a Masters champion.”
Scott was clearly the most compelling figure on day one of a Masters marked by the absence of Tiger Woods, sitting it out for the first time in his career after undergoing back surgery.
Golf has been waiting for a star to take control all year, and Scott turned in a rock-solid round that was marred only by a double bogey in the middle of Amen Corner, the one time he let the significance of being a major champion get to him.
A huge roar went up as Scott strolled from the 11th green to the 12th tee. Caught up in the moment, he promptly dumped his tee shot in Rae’s Creek, the first time that has happened in his career. Otherwise, he had no complaints.
“Getting off to a good start in a major is huge,” Scott said. “They are the hardest tournaments to chase. Birdies aren’t that easy to come by usually at the majors, and if you’re six back, five back, 10 back after that first round, it’s a hard three days in front of you.”
That doesn’t bode well for Phil Mickelson, the American who had two sevens on his card and finished with a 76 – eight shots off the lead. Not exactly the kind of start “Lefty” was hoping for in pursuit of his fourth Green Jacket. No one has ever come back to win at Augusta from more than seven shots behind after the opening round.
“I was really off,” said Mickelson, who blamed his score on mental lapses rather than anything in his swing. “It was very disappointing.”
Bill Haas, the son of the longtime PGA Tour stalwart Jay Haas, broke 70 for the first time in five Masters appearances, and he has his father helping him every step of the way. They are staying together in Augusta, and Haas senior is out on the range every day, passing on any helpful hints to his son.
Haas’s performance was especially poignant, given his father played the Masters 22 times and never finished higher than a tie for third in 1995. In fact, the elder Haas never won a major despite a long, successful career. Maybe his boy can take care of that little blemish.
“He deserved a major in his career,” Bill Haas said. “He was working his tail off to try to win those things.”
Bubba Watson, who slipped that Green Jacket on Scott last year, played his first bogey-free round in a major since the 2009 US Open. Louis Oosthuizen was the only other player in the 60s – it was the fewest number of players to break 70 in an opening round at the Masters since 2007. The greens were just getting firmer by the hour.
Mickelson and the other reigning major champions paid the price. PGA Championship winner Jason Dufner took a quadruple-bogey nine on the 13th hole and wound up with an 80. US Open champion Justin Rose shot 40 on the front and scrambled for a 76, matching Mickelson.
Jimmy Walker, Kevin Stadler and Jonas Blixt – among the record 24 newcomers to the Masters – were in the group at 70. The group at 71 included 20-year-old Jordan Spieth and 54-year-old Fred Couples, and a former No 1 in Rory McIlroy.
Haas knows better than to put too much stock into what happens on a Thursday. He was leading after the opening round in Houston last week and tied for 37th. Only one first-round leader in the last 30 years has gone on to win the Masters. “There’s tons of golf left,” Haas said.