The tenth hole at Augusta is arguably the most striking of the lot, a sweeping, tree-lined dog leg to a majestic pine clad green. Rory McIlroy would gladly see it bulldozed after it triggered another staggering back-nine collapse.
Three years after his meltdown in pursuit of victory, a double bogey late in the afternoon sent him into a tailspin that left him in danger of missing the cut. He made it, but with nothing to spare, and there was no capricious branch to blame on this occasion.
McIlroy was longer off the tee with a 3-wood than either of his playing partners with the big stick. From the centre of the fairway he over-clubbed, the ball pitched on the back of the green, caught a slope and dribbled all the way to the pine needles 50 yards from the pin.
The chip back failed to find the green resulting in a double. He was 50 yards to the good off the 11 tee but from position A failed to find the green again. Another poor chip led to a third dropped shot. Again at the par-3 12 he was closest to the pin and missed a short birdie putt.
Had enough? McIlroy had but it wasn’t over. His drive at the 13 was ridiculously good, a full 70 yards beyond his partners. This time he not only missed the green, he found a sprinkler head, which diverted his approach into the rockery behind the green.
McIlroy had given it up and hit a provisional to 20 feet. Given the day he was having the ball was bound to turn up, and when it did he was left with no option to hack out wide of the green. What should have been a big shout for eagle ended in a fourth dropped shot in as many holes.
He was now five over for his round and on the projected cut line of four over par with five to play. Who’d be a 24-year-old genius?
All the noise was coming from Bubba Watson. The 2012 champion inverted the McIlroy experience to set the Augusta telegraph ablaze with five back-nine birdies on the spin, establishing a clubhouse lead of three over John Senden.
It was just what the Masters needed after news from ESPN that first day audience figures collapsed in the absence of Tiger Woods by 800,000, almost a third, to two million. The sight of Watson burning up the place, not to mention talking about it afterwards, ought to have them flooding back over the weekend.
This marvellous, juxtaposed, box-of-tricks of a golfer is charged by his very nature with reconciling the polar opposites between his ears. The golf course offers some reprieve, a place of relative calm where on the good days the complications disappear. This was one such afternoon.
In the best tradition of the Western movie it was all too quiet out there until Watson strode on to the 12 tee with trigger cocked. A birdie at the seventh, given back two holes later, was hitherto his only red number of the day. Then Boom, it was Bubba time again, song breaking out all over the back nine.
The pick was the 30-foot bender from right to left at the 14. Since there are no extra marks for artistic effort that beauty was worth no more than the tap-ins that followed at 15 and 16. Watson cared little. He had not had a run like this at a major since his triumph here two years ago when he pinned four birdies together over the same sequence of holes.
A bogey at the last was perhaps understandable given the disruptive force of his turbo golf but did nothing to tarnish what was a remarkable display. Watson’s account of his round was just as entertaining, ranging from the technical details behind 9-iron that cover 180 yards before bouncing to an upbringing in Baghdad, Florida, the son of a construction worker and a mother who had to take two jobs to support his golf.
There will be a book in Sunday’s speech if he stays the course. The thrust of the message is this, after a wasted year coming to terms with being a Masters champion, the golfer that won two years ago is back.
“Obviously I was going to hang over. Never been drunk before, but a hangover from the green jacket. It's going to take me some time. I do everything my way. I learned the game my way. I figured it out my way. So it just takes me a little bit longer with the mental focus and drive to get back to where I am today.
“As a kid, you don't think about the bad days. You always think about the great days. So playing here at Augusta, there's a lot of people that wished they could play this tournament and a lot of people that wish they could play this tournament more than once. It's all about not focusing on the bad stuff. It's about how lucky I am to be able to play golf for a living and just keep going from there.”
Defending champion Adam Scott, who started the day one behind on three under par was back to level after just five holes. Another seven would pass before he struck back with a birdie the 12, where he posted his only bogey of the first round. Two more birdies at the par-5s 13 and 15 saw him back to three under par.
Watson’s burst was not appreciated by those seeking entry to the weekend via the ten-shot rule. That ticket was closed to Darren Clarke, whose four over total was one shot the wrong side of nirvana, leaving him clinging to the 50 and ties mechanism.
Playing partner Stephen Gallacher was safely through after returning a 72 to remain at one under par, one ahead of Lee Westwood and two clear of Ian Poulter. Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell and Phil Mickelson all went home.