As the old saying goes you cannot win the Masters on the first round, but you certainly can lose it. Through 17 holes it certainly looked like Henrik Stetson was well on his way to posting an impressive 1st round that would transform him from a mere contender to an outright favorite. However, the cruelty of golf and the always challenging Augusta National got the last laugh, when Stenson closed out his first round with a quadruple bogey eight on 18 to finish with a one under par 71. Although Stetson currently sits only four shots back, one must wonder if he has the resolve to rebound from such a disastrous finish.
Is there an Heir Apparent to Bobby Jones?
While Stentson was finishing out in amateur form, two of this year’s amateur qualifiers posted impressive first round scores. Hideki Matsuyama, two time Asian amateur champion and the only amateur to make last year’s cut, played consistent throughout his day posting three birdies and two bogeys. With Matsuyama’s first round success that follows last year’s impressive four day one under score of 287, Matsuyama has transformed himself from a Cinderella story to an outright contender for this year’s title.
Meanwhile, United States Amateur runner up and top ranked United State’s amateur, Patrick Cantalay played in similar fashion posting a one under 71 to match Matsuyama. Cantalay is best known for posting a second round ten under 60 at the Traveler’s Championship, the lowest round ever posted by an Amateur. Although it is unlikely that either of these Amateurs will be in the mix come Sunday, one can only hope that these two golfers can revive the spirit of Bobby Jones’ by shocking the golf world through their capturing this year’s Masters’ Championship.
The Favorites Hang On
Despite fighting an erratic driver all day, Tiger Woods birdie on 10 that put him at 2 under appeared to kick start his round that would allow him to make his signature back nine charge. However, Tiger failed to capitalize on the two par fives and his driver finally caught up to him on 17 and 18 where he posted back to back bogeys to end his day with an even par 72. At the start of the day it appeared that McIlroy was still suffering from last year’s final round 80 when he double bogeyed the first hole. However, as has been the case with McIlroy throughout his career his resilience paid off as he was able to fight back to even par through 17 and then close out his round with an impressive birdie on the difficult 18th to post a one under 71.
Is It Finally Westwood’s Week?
Beyond all of the scores that were posted and the one score that could have been, it was Lee Westwood who once again showed his ability to post a solid opening round at the Masters. Westwood’s seven birdie two bogey 67 gave him a one stroke lead over Louis Ossthuizen going into Friday. It is apparent that Westwood is on top of his game early on as he posted three successive birdies on 6, 7 and 8 to open with a front nine 32. Despite his solid play on the back, Westwood missed several makeable birdie putts down the stretch that could have expanded his lead. Although Westwood’s round was impressive, the missed birdie opportunities on the back nine may very well come back to haunt him if he is challenged down the stretch on Sunday.
What the Masters taught us on day one is that the course is receptive to players posting low scores. Despite Westwood’s impressive 67, there are 27 players within four strokes including Westwood’s playing partners Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk who shot matching two under 70s. There are also another 16 players who sit at even par just five strokes back, including Woods and long time Master’s contender, Fred Couples.
With the current soft greens and light winds it is likely that Augusta National will yield scores lower than Westwood’s 67 in the coming days. Instead of battling to stay around par as many Masters have allowed, it appears that this year’s winner could be decided on a player’s ability to post successive sub par rounds. With the low scores in mind, it is hard to ignore the fact that despite their erratic ball striking, Woods and McIlroy sit well within sight of Westwood. If either of these players are able to shake off the first round and make a charge early in their second round, it is safe to assume that the golf world and the leaders will begin to take notice. As a result, we may yet be rewarded with the Woods/McIlroy show down that so many have hoped for.
Who’s your pick for the 2012 Masters Green Jacket?