If not quite the Adam and Rory show, the opening day of the Masters gave a hint of broadcast nirvana in the absence of the game's biggest draw. Defending champion Adam Scott and pre-tournament favourite Rory McIlroy took prominent places on the leaderboard to suggest there might yet be gold in a Tiger-free weekend.
That jacket is not coming off without a fight. Scott said in his best bluff Australian that he would not be cowed by the data. That only three players have retained the green jacket in 80 years was nothing to him. He liked the sound of Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Sir Nick Faldo and Adam Scott.
Were it not for a rinsed ball in Rae's Creek at 12, Scott would have been clean away on an opening day that looked benign yet bit so hard. His 69 was consolation enough leaving him alongside Louis Oosthuizen and Bubba Watson just one behind leader Bill Haas, the only players to break 70.
The Biblical rains of Monday left no trace. A hot sun and drying wind made marble of greens that threaten to get even quicker as the week goes on. Rory McIlroy took Augusta National apart off the tee but left the greens begging for mercy. Three putts at eight, 12 and the last for a 71 were classic counter punches by a course that demands patience and respect.
With each passing year this tournament acquires a layer of stately grandeur, provided in no small part by the ceremonial tee shots struck by golf's venerable threesome Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. This is becoming as much a part of the Masters 'construction' as the azaleas, dogwoods and Amen Corner, so grand in fact it drew the great All Black stand-off Dan Carter to the party beneath the clubhouse oak.
Five minutes later at 7.45am Stewart Cink and Tim Clark split the chill morning air to get the tournament under way. What a sight they presented, climbing the steep fairway that held their tee shots, the unfeasibly green expanse more carpet than grass beneath a crystal sky.
The appearance of Scott alongside Sheffield's US Amateur champion Matt Fitzpatrick was the set-piece of the day after the golden three-ball at dawn. It must be both honour and torment to walk on to that tee box for the first time alongside the Masters champion.
Nerves added a few feet per second to Scott's swing. Fitzpatrick went at it as if swatting a fly. The result was an ugly hook on to the neighbouring ninth fairway. Like a first date, it was one just to get out of the way. The double bogey was unfortunate but he settled with a birdie at the next to get him into his round.
And then came McIlroy, utterly imperious off the tee, smashing the ball alongside the furthest bunker on the first, beyond the trap on the second and almost to the green on the 350-yard third. Having already been Tiger proofed, McIlroy's monstrous hitting suggested new amendments might be required to contain him. Extending the course across the Savanagh River into South Carolina perhaps?
In the event he tamed himself with poor approaches at the opening two holes, requiring an exquisite chip to ensure par at the first. A birdie at the third fired a gallery that included Jamie Redknapp, Will Greenwood and Ant and Dec. Perhaps they were researching challenges for the jungle.
Posting a birdie at the fifth might be one. McIlroy managed it, this time matching approach with tee shot to land the ball on a ridge 12 feet from the hole. He practically teased the putt home, hitting with just enough pace to squeeze in the cup via the side door.
Matt Kuchar once described Augusta as either the easiest hard course or the hardest easy course, depending on how a player is swinging. McIlroy made it both. From a position of strength he gave back silly bogeys at the par-5 eighth, the short 12th. His face was as red as his fiance's dyed hair picking the ball out of the hole and dumping it straight in Rae's Creek.
Knocking over the par-5s is central to the prospects of any this week. Having failed miserably to make any capital of his stellar drive at the second and fluffed the eighth, McIlroy redressed the balance at 13 and 15 with tap-in birdies at both. The bogey at the 18th was unfortunate but better, perhaps, that it comes on the first day rather than the last.
“I think that they set the course up very difficult today,” McIlroy said. “Some of the pin positions were tough to get close to. For the most part I felt like I put my ball in the positions they needed to be. I was taking two putts and getting out of there. The greens are firming up. The wind was all over the place. Anything under par today was a good score.”
Scott answered the catastrophe at 12 with a birdie the 14th. There might have been more at 15 and 17, but like McIlroy, he was pleased to be in red numbers. “Getting off to a good start in a major is huge, because they are the hardest tournaments to chase. Birdies aren't that easy to come by and if you're six back, five back, ten back after the first round, it's a hard three days in front of you.”
After starting with a bogey Haas made best use of the early conditions to edge ahead with a birdie at the last. His great uncle, Bob Goalby, won here in 1968 and his father Jay went close in 1995, a memory that is feeding his desire to deliver another green jacket to the family vault.
Of the father and son contesting the same Masters, Kevin Stadler closed in a tie for third with a 70, a full 12 shots better than Craig. Mind you, dad is 60. The highest-score-at-one-hole prize went to Jason Dufner for a quadruple-bogey nine at the 13th.Reuse content