Spring. To normal folk, it means blossom on the trees, blue in the sky and warmth in the air. To golfers, it means Amen Corner, Butler Cabin and green jackets. It means the Masters, and it’s time for the first major grades of 2017.
We take the top 10 in the Official World Golf Rankings and then throw in a couple of others to mix it up (like Nos. 52, 53 and 54 in the OWGR). Who’s plotting a steely sure path down those undulating fairways and across those lightning-fast greens? Who’s over-steering them, veering from minor error to major disaster?
Golf needs a new Tiger, they cried. Tiger in his prime is what they meant though. Not Tiger hobbling around with a bad back. It could be worse, though. Slipping down the stairs might be a faintly comical (if painful) way to miss the Masters, but an English cricketer once missed a match when his back went into spasm picking up a knife and fork. True story. Unless it’s revealed he trod on a toy car prior to taking his tumble, Johnson has at least avoided the ignominy of topping that slapstick tale. Tough grading. Get well soon, Dustin.
World ranking: No. 1
He has a reputation for making slow starts at Augusta, and whilst he only once has gone genuinely low (65 in 2011), he has only once been over-par at the 18-hole stage. The bigger problem? In five of the past seven years he has carded one round of at least 77 strokes. When he posted three front-nine bogeys, there was every chance he might do that Thursday, but he fought the evident frustration and three red numbers in four holes from the 13th transformed his fortunes. Wonderful touch at 18 saved par from off the green. Promising start.
World ranking: No. 2
Score: 72 (E)
An emotional time, an emotional week for the Australian — and precious little preparation for a man for whom the hard work matters. Found 10 of 14 fairways, but struggled with his approaches, hitting just 10 of 18 greens. However, he avoided 3-putts, fought for every shot and played with huge pride — the sort of thing that makes a mum proud.
World ranking: No. 3
Score: 74 (+2)
For six holes the Japanese star was making serene progress at level-par, and then it all went horribly wrong. He pulled his tee shot at No. 7 into the trees on his way to double-bogey 6, then at the par-5 eighth, it was his approach that went left. More trees, another 6. He hit 14 greens but very little wanted to drop — and making no less than three 3-putts is no recipe for success at Augusta.
World ranking: No. 4
Score: 76 (+4)
In 11 previous visits to Augusta National, the Swede averaged 74.64 in Round 1 and he never looked like improving on that after opening with four bogeys in his first five holes. He found just 10 of 18 greens and actually missed the final green by 62 yards left. If you’re hoping his Masters woes will end shortly, well maybe think again because history is against him and in some style. Incredibly, he has never carded a sub-70 round before the final round (in 31 tries).
World ranking: No. 5
Score: 77 (+5)
The good news: He got over his quadruple-bogey at No. 12 this time last year and made par. The bad news: He made one at No. 15 instead. Ouch. Just ouch. Has to be said, though, that grading the Texan would be difficult even had he shot 72. This is a man who had been top three at the end of his previous 11 rounds at Augusta National — anything less than that had to be deemed a failure of some sort. Earns his grade for what he did on 12, for bouncing back from 15 with birdie at 16, and completing a great scramble on 18.
World ranking: No. 6
Score: 75 (+3)
Found only seven of 14 fairways, but that didn’t stop him landing 15 of 18 greens as he improved on last year’s opening circuit of 76. He 3-putted No. 17 late in the day and was looking mighty chilly as he lined up a nasty 10-footer for par on the final green. He even stood off it to warm his hands before finally draining the putt. He showed a solid effort that provides momentum heading into the second round.
World ranking: No. 7
Score: 73 (+1)
Oh, Rickie. At 1-under playing the final hole, he stared down a wonderful contrast to last year’s opening lap of 80, everything looking so neat. Then his drive found the trees, he couldn’t find the green and 3-putted. The previous 11 Masters champions all broke par in Round 1. Posting a red number would not have guaranteed Fowler joining their number, but it would have been a huge boost. Turning 1-under into 1-over the way he did will give him a sore head.
World ranking: No. 8
Score: 73 (+1)
Heading into this week, the Aussie had posted a 68 in five of his past six starting laps on tour, but he never looked like making it six in seven. Scott has now broken par just twice in 13 rounds at Augusta National since he slipped his arms inside the green jacket back in 2013. Three-stabbing both Nos. 17 and 18 turned an average day into a poor one. Not as far back as he might expect, but he needs to shrug off the flat feeling that has lingered for the past four years.
World ranking: No. 9
Score: 75 (+3)
An eight-time winner on the European Tour and third on last year’s Race to Dubai, the busy Swede has never transferred that form to the top table. It’s his Masters debut, but one top-10 finish in 25 WGC and major championship appearances means expectations are low. First move was good (birdie at No. 2), but four straight bogeys from the fourth were a real blow. Three late birdies at Nos. 14, 16 and 17 sharpened up the card.
World ranking: No. 10
Score: 74 (+2)
We might have to discount everything Hoffman achieved Thursday because he wasn’t playing the same course as everyone else, right? Seven under? Seven?! When the next best was 3 under — are you kidding us, Charley? In fairness, he has (almost) done it before, when a first-round 67 in 2015 left him T-2, and a recent second-round 66 at Bay Hill gave him the solo lead at the halfway mark in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. But really?! This round was other-worldly. He birdied all four par-3s (only the third player in Masters history to achieve that in one round), made nine par breakers in total, and four in a row from the 14th. Take a bow, Charley. Take a bow.
World ranking: No. 52
Score: 65 (-7)
Dude sounds like a CIA agent turned author of conspiracy theories, but he laughed in the face of Augusta National’s famed difficulty for first-timers, posting the clubhouse low for the morning starters. No less than eight of the past nine winners of the Masters carded a round in the 60s on Thursday, and McGirt was the only man in the early wave to achieve that. Flipside is the best known trend in golf: No one has won as a Masters rookie since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. Intriguingly, McGirt’s previous start in a major reaped a T-10 finish — in last year’s PGA Championship.
World ranking: No. 53
Score: 69 (-3)
When Westwood made a limp bogey-4 to playing partner Danny Willett’s birdie-2 at the 16th hole in last year’s final round, just as the pair had been confirmed as 1 and 2 on the leaderboard, pretty much everyone in the world watched and thought: “Yup, typical Westwood.” Equally typical (yet less appreciated), he’s back on the leaderboard, giving it another go. Nine times a top-three finisher in the majors, he has yet to find the win. Bizarrely, the end-of-round 1-2-3 on the leaderboard (Hoffman, McGirt, Westwood) are 52-53-54 in the world rankings. What are the chances of that?
World ranking: No. 54
Score: 70 (-2)