Day 1 and the birdies are dropping!

Proving the weather forecasters wrong, the day opened bright and beautiful, and hot. As expected, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus smashed their ceremonial drives down the middle.      

Gary, ever the showman, drove it longest and then threw out a karate kick in mock challenge. At 80, he is so fit and strong, that you are advised never to accept his open invitation to hit him as hard as you can on his solar plexus; you will break your wrist.  “Damn right, I’m going to do the ceremonial tee off as long as they ask me”, Palmer gushed but, owing to a current injury could manage only a poor shot. The patrons did not care; they showered affection and respect on these three living icons of the game.

The suspense was palpable as any of 20 players could win and then there could still be a surprise. The steady buildup to the tournament through media, commentators, and the mystique of the uniqueness of this tournament through its different terminologies, different spectator behaviour and its management through extremely strict rules and regulations of public and private conduct, virtually predicates that a denouement will be dramatic.

Vijay Singh had the only birdie on the first, holing out a chip from 45 yards but thereafter the leader board was awash in red. Anirban, the lone Indian in the fray, and playing for the first time in the US let alone the Masters, and that too amongst great players whom he had only heard of and seen on TV, performed creditably, making only the one mistake. An eight foot putt for birdie on the 9th slipped past and he missed the return. Playing along with him was Jiminez, whom he had bested to win the Hero Indian Open a few weeks ago, sank his putt from the same distance and, with a flourish, lifted his putter by its head and sheathed it as though it were a sword. The spectators loved it.  

Charlie Hoffman played great golf and was the leader in the Club House at five under before Justin Rose caught up with him and a whole lot of others threatened his lead. Unsatisfied with his shot making, he was at the practice facility, immediately after his round, with his coach and troupe to iron out unseen wrinkles. Tiger’s was the second last grouping and the crowds eagerly waited for him as though they were waiting for Godot. He three putted the first but recovered on the second; thereafter he had a luckless round. He could easily have been minus three especially as his suspect chipping was up to top standard. None of his putts dropped and he had an unfortunate bath at Golden Bell (Jezebel), the treacherous par 3 twelfth which forms the cusp of Amen Corner. Remarkably, at the tees and the greens, the crowds were fifteen or even twenty deep to simply catch a glimpse of the returning Hero (no pun intended!). Fans expect a lot from him but they do know that his game, and confidence, will need to be built up step by step if he is to enter the winners circle again.

Leader Board   
1 Jordan Spieth -8 64
T2 Jason Day -5 67
T2 Ernie Els -5 67
T2 Charley Hoffman -5 67
T2 Justin Rose -5 67
Jordan Spieth looked particularly good and attractive in his demeanor and composure. He steadily built his score with no spectacular shots and only the standard modicum of fair fortune and had a good look in at matching the course record of 63. At minus eight, he misjudged his second on the birdiable par five fifteenth which resulted in a bogey.  Normally one picks up a shot at this easiest of par fives and had he done that, he would have equalled the course record. He momentarily and uncharacteristically lost his cool at that shot but he recovered himself quickly; this is a hallmark of champions. Leading by three at minus eight, and given his recent form, he seems to be a shoe in for the Green Jacket. 


It is said that one must birdie the par fives to win as that is minus sixteen all on its own.

Everybody makes mistakes and this bank buttresses those errors. Jordan, looking error proof with just the right degree of confidence in his shot making will certainly make a popular winner. But then Ernie Els had the first round in any major in his life by shooting a five under, even after an unfortunate three putt on 18. Can we have another Masters winner in his forties? The Southern Hemisphere challenge was joined by a sleek and fit looking Jason Day of Australia who had a run of birdies to close in on Jordan. And behind this lot are many excellent players who are not going to give up the chase; after all, Jordan’s fortune of today could be theirs tomorrow.

It’s fairly typical of this level of champions to immediately head to the practice range after finishing their round to convert negatives into positives and go to sleep with positive thoughts only. Charlie Hoffman was not alone.  While Jordan certainly looks set for the straight, it is only the fighting spirit of the other potential winners that can cause a different expectation over the next three days. 

All eyes to Day Two for another low scoring day!