Paul Casey still had no problem finding enough energy in the sheer mystique of the Masters Thursday in a first round that was delayed seven months by a pandemic and then nearly three hours by thunderstorms.
That took him to a 7 under 65, tying his lowest score at Augusta National and giving him a two-stroke lead among those lucky enough to get 18 holes before it got too dark to continue.
“So many people like me are just thrilled to play this,” Casey said. “It’s a delight. It has always been and always will be a real treat.
The Fall Masters of course brought a different course, in part thanks to the weather.
The torrential downpour that started about 30 minutes after Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player hit their ceremonial tee shots, coupled with a November tournament with Bermuda grass still not dormant, left Augusta National soft and vulnerable to low scores and far fewer penalties.
Defending champion Tiger Woods even got into the act. A notorious slow starter despite his five green jackets, he played his first round without a bogey in any major in 11 years and tied his low start at the Masters with a 68.
“I put a lot of that together today,” said Woods, his only regret that he didn’t put a few more putts. He finished with eight starts.
The largest crowd – around 100 in this case – was two groups in front of Woods watching Bryson DeChambeau crush shots in the trees and a shot in the azalea bushes behind the 13th green. He was lucky to find it as his provisional shot entered the creek. He did a double bogey anyway, although he did manage to scratch a 70.
So much action, typical of the Masters, and so little volume.
And it was worth the wait caused by COVID-19.
“I spoke earlier in the year about not liking golf in a pandemic,” Casey said. “I didn’t know what the experience would be like without fans and so far I haven’t enjoyed it. I have little or nothing to tap into while playing tournament golf. The Masters, however, this week there is still some buzz, there is some energy and a little bit of vibe.
“Yes, it’s clearly a lot less than we’re used to. But there is something about this place. I felt excited to be here.
The excitement for Casey started on the dreaded 10th hole when he hit his approach with a front pin about five feet for birdie. He had eagle chances on the two par 5s on the back nine and settled for birdies. He took a left pin at par 5 with a 6 iron and watched the ball drop to 6 feet for the eagle.
“You can’t hit that blow in April,” he said. “He pitched and stopped instantly, and that April shot would have jumped at customers. ”
There were plenty of reasons to be excited on multiple dashboards.
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Webb Simpson played a tidy trick, making the No. 2 eagle after the turn and finishing with seven pars for a 67. He was joined by Xander Sc Chaudele, a Woods finalist last year, who had seven birdies. in his round of 67.
“You go to pins that you wouldn’t really feel comfortable with,” said ScHotele. “There are so many places your ball will stay. It was really strange.
Lee Westwood wasn’t sure if he would ever return to the Masters, earning a tie-in ticket to fourth in the British Open last summer. The best player without a major has shown he still has life at 47. He shot 31 in the forehead and limited damage in the back for a 68, joining the squad that included Woods, former Masters champion Patrick Reed, Hideki Matsuyama and Louis Oosthuizen.
World No.1 player Dustin Johnson was among those who played in the afternoon and had to return on Friday morning to finish. He opened with an eagle at # 2 and was 3 cents on the turn. Justin Thomas started with three birdies in a row and was five-under par 10 holes.
Rory McIlroy also played in the afternoon, bogeyed his first hole and struggled to birdies. He was even tied at the turn, which was worse on a day like this.
The delay was the last thing the Masters needed with limited daylight hours leading up to the start on two starts. Every minute counts, and it was doubtful that 36 holes could be completed by Friday.
The loudest cheers – applause, certainly not a roar – came for Nicklaus and Player who hit tee shots so early they couldn’t see where they landed. Five groups passed through a hole before the siren sounded to stop the game for 2 hours and 45 minutes. And then the players began to light up the course as the clouds moved east and those famous shadows of the Georgia pines stretched across the fairways.
It just looked like the masters minus the spring flowers, though it didn’t.