Huge crowds gathered around the first tee here shortly after a late breakfast yesterday to watch the best two players in the world begin their Masters adventure.
So the so-called most knowledgeable patrons in the world (spectators are, apparently, what common events have) had a surprise wake-up call to see Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood appear instead of Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. The two Americans are the stellar players here. The Europeans set off in almost total silence apart from a "Go Kuch!" yelled probably by one of Matt Kuchar's family. The low-key but high-performing American was the man in the middle making up this Ryder Cup threeball.
Such was the peace and quiet on this back-warming electric blue-sky spring morning that all you could hear was the soft-shoe shuffle of golf fans, sorry, patrons, setting off for a stroll among the pine straw. The serenity punctuated only by the soundtrack of birds tweeting (not the Ian Poulter kind of tweeting, obviously) in the style of a telex machine (remember them?). Rarely can there have been a more laid-back meeting of the No 1 and No 2 ranked players.
Westwood spent the evening before the first round relaxing at a barbecue in the garden of the house rented for the week by his management company. His opening drive dunked into a fairway bunker. He grimaced. Indigestion from one too many spare ribs, perhaps. He chipped out and grimaced again? Dodgy kebab? As he stood over a three-foot putt to save par, the deafening silence was broken by a siren as an emergency vehicle screeched down Washington Road just outside the course. Westwood's putt lipped out. Maybe it was an ambulance coming to patch up the Englishman. Bleeding already. A torrid start.
Westwood marched to the second tee staring ahead, eyes like thunder. He smashed his drive down the par-five second. It felt like a great release of tension and sounded like an angry camper wielding a mallet to hammer a tent peg into the turf. "He smoked that!" boomed a Southern drawl. He smoked his approach, too – into the greenside bunker. No worries. It was a smart bale-out. Chip and a putt – birdie. Back to level par.
Kaymer began with a regulation par but his Augusta Achilles' heel was exposed at the second. The tee shot needs a right-to-left draw. Kaymer fades. He went right then did it again with his approach and trudged off with a bogey. Kaymer won his first major at the US PGA Championship last year but he has missed the cut in all three of his previous Masters appearances. He readily admits that the course does not suit him. More homework is clearly required to learn that all-important draw.
As Westwood and Kaymer strode uphill to the third green, they could have glanced left to see Woods going downhill to the second green. You could tell it was the world No 7 (doesn't that sound strange?) by the army of fans, sorry patrons, swarming over the hill.
Westwood looked to have played the perfect approach to the third but it kept rolling away from the hole. Augusta's greens are like that: it's their defence. Just when a player thinks his shot is on the money, they often find themselves bankrupt. Westwood was disgusted with his 10-foot putt. It was a bad contact. You could hear the clunk as he hit it. Birdie opportunity lost. He swung his putter in frustration. Better news at the par-three fourth. Westwood snatched the Nearest The Pin contest from Kaymer (the ultimate prize is rather more than voucher from the pro shop). This time Westwood holed the birdie putt.
But there was trouble ahead at the eighth. He hooked into the trees and his escape shot played pinball with the branches before clattering back onto the fairway. He ended up with a bogey. It really was a struggle for the world No 2 but he is nothing if not a fighter. He kept battling to be one under par after back-to-back birdies at the 15th and 16th but dropped to level par with a bogey at the last. It all just looked like so much hard work for the world No 2, especially on the greens. "It's how my game is at the moment," Westwood said with a shrug. "If you can't hole it out from four-feet, you're going to struggle, aren't you."
Meanwhile, the usually metronomic Kaymer had a day to forget: out in 38, back in 40 for a six-over par 78. Another missed cut is on the cards and his No 1 spot is now under threat. "I don't really know how to play this course," he said. "Maybe I've got to sit down with Bernhard Langer later and ask him. He won here twice [in 1985 and 1993]."
Maybe the German also needs to put two drivers in his bag (one to fade, one to draw) like California's Mickelson did to win the Masters in 2006. Vorprung durch technik, as they say in San Diego.
View from the azaleas: Day one at Augusta
Shot of the day
South African Retief Goosen, who has twice finished runner-up and has two other top-three placings at Augusta to his name, set the tone for his Masters by holing his second shot from the first hole's fairway for a brilliant eagle two. A stunning start on his way to what he hopes will be a first Green Jacket.
Old masters of the day
Twenty-five years after his last Masters win – the sixth of his career – Jack Nicklaus, 71, opened the tournament with a powerful ceremonial drive that showed true talent never fades. It is unclear whether Tiger Woods was in the area looking for a few tips after his long fallow spell. The feat of another old-timer, caddie Carl Jackson, was even more impressive. He was on Ben Crenshaw's bag and he was caddying in his 50th Masters. There can be very little Jackson hasn't seen round Augusta's famous slopes.
Outfit of the day
The heir to Phil Mickelson's throne as the darling of the US galleries, 22-year-old Rickie Fowler yesterday looked as though Robin Hood was his real role model. The youngster from California made his Masters debut dressed in an eye-catching all-green Puma number.
Shank of the day
There was some competition in this category – Crenshaw notched an ugly double bogey on the fourth – but Tiger takes the honours. The former world No 1 struck a wild drive on the third that left him in trouble, playing from deep in the woods. Deep trouble? Woods? Surely not...Reuse content