by Jeff Skinner
It’s been just about a year since we last saw our favorite golfers walk the hills of Augusta National and it certainly was worth the wait. Thursday’s play finished with one of the most illustrious leaderboards in major championship history. The leaders at The Masters include the old, the young, the established champions and the new wave of major champion wannabes.
If anyone had drawn up this leaderboard before the tournament they would have been laughed at. It was a wonderful day for scoring at Augusta and an even better day for interesting stories.
Freddy Couples made his way around Augusta with no socks under those new nubby Eccos of his. They suit him fine as he shot a six under 66 to lead the tournament. How can a fifty year old guy stroll from the Champions Tour to Augusta and beat the best players of in the world? I didn’t think Fred had a chance to contend here but if he can drive it like he did today, 11 of 14 fairways and 286 yards, he’ll be there on Sunday.
Freddy had to one up his Champions Tour buddy, Tom Watson, to lead The Masters. When Tom Watson finished his round in the afternoon he was the lone leader at five under par. How does a sixty year old man compete with golfers half his age? Drive it 280, use all the knowledge of Augusta he has acquired in 36 tournaments here and make sure your putter doesn’t desert you. His putter worked fine and he only needed 24 to get it to the clubhouse. Can Watson drag us along on another magical, mystical ride like he did at Turnberry last summer? Watson may have one coming to him from the golf gods after last year’s final hole at The Open. It would be another amazing ride.
The people’s champion, Phil Mickelson used six birds and one bogey to end up tied for second place. As good as Phil’s round was he still was missing fairways, he only hit six of fourteen. Believe it or not Phil’s day was overshadowed by Couples and Watson and their unexpected rounds.
As good as all the leaders played and that includes Couples, Watson, Choi, Westwood, Mickelson, and Yang, in my opinion the round of the day has to be Tiger’s. So he is only at four under and not in the lead but in this situation he has to be more than pleased. With all that has transpired in his life and all the pressure he is under his performance has to be very satisfying. I can’t think of many situations where an athlete was under such pressure. Woods went as low as he ever had in a first round at The Masters, his 68 was two better than he ever scored in an opening round here. Afterward he said “it felt normal” on the course and “the reception was incredible all day.” His ball striking was fine but he struggled with 31 putts. If he can find his short stroke he may be making the most spectacular comeback in golf history.