Thursday at the Masters: A quick 18

1. COMING UP ACES: There were four holes-in-one Wednesday at the Par-3 Contest, but Ian Poulter had the first one in the real tournament, using an 8-iron to ace the 169-yard 16th as part of his first-round 70.

“Massive. Unbelievable buzz,” Poulter said. “It was a special moment, and the hairs on the back of your neck were standings up.”

Poulter’s buzz may have lasted a little too long. He made bogey on the next hole, saying adrenaline played a part in him hitting his approach shot over the green. It was his only bogey Thursday.

“It was pretty much a flawless ballstriking round of golf,” he said. “Two under par isn’t a true reflection. It’s probably one of the best rounds of golf I’ve ever played.”

2. ON TIGER’S TAIL: Poulter’s known for his frankness, especially earlier this year when he said he was capable of becoming the No. 2 player in the world. Of course, the first question in the press center touched on that subject.

Q: You showed you really do have the talent to be the proper No. 2.

Poulter: “If I work hard, and keep playing like this, then who knows. You know, I think it’s achievable if you play good over a good, you know, season or two, and I think everybody out there knows it. So if I can play like I did today, certainly, then anything is achievable.”

3. HISTORY LESSON: Boo Weekley, playing his first Masters, might need a little history lesson on Augusta National. He thought the 530-yard 15th hole was a par 4 (wouldn’t that diminish Gene Sarazen’s double eagle there in 1935?). Also, he’s a little mixed up on just what makes up Amen Corner. Said Boo, “What’s Amen Corner? Is it 12? Why is that a corner? It should be 12, 13, and 14, shouldn’t it? Well, you got me there.”

4. RYDER CUP ALERT: Two-time Masters champ Jose Maria Olazabal, who shot 76 in Thursday’s first round, has been offered the captaincy for the 2010 European Ryder Cup team, England’s Daily Mail reported. Thomas Bjorn, the European Tour’s tournament players committee chairman, informed Olazabal, who said he will decide by July.

5. SLOW OPENINGS: Tiger Woods shot even-par 72 Thursday to keep a surprising streak alive. He hasn’t broken par in the opening round of the Masters since 2002, when he shot 70 and won. He opened with 70 in each of his first three victories (Remember that 40-30 in ‘97?). Tiger’s openers since ‘02 (in chronological order), 76-75-74-72-73-72.

6. HE’S A PLAYER: Gary Player made his 51st Masters appearance when he teed off Thursday, breaking Arnold Palmer’s record.

“Well, it’s a thrill,” Player said. “It’s a thrill to know now that I hold the record. Of course all records are made to be broken, aren’t they? … Somebody will come along and break 51 one day, I guess.”

Player, 72, told Golfweek, “Most people my age, first of all, are dead. Secondly, they couldn’t walk 18 holes, not at Augusta, and I’ll cruise around there.”

The walking was the easy part Thursday. Player shot 11-over 83 to finish in last place. He spoke for a lot of players when he said, “Man, that’s a tough golf course. … No question, the toughest golf course that I’ve ever played, not even a doubt.”

7. TOUGH ENOUGH: Player wasn’t the only one that Augusta National got the best of. Here’s a sampling of player laments, which were plentiful in the press room:

• Justin Leonard (first-round 72): “I don’t think anybody feels really comfortable on this golf course.”

• Tiger Woods (72): “The way the golf course plays now, you don’t really shoot low rounds anymore. … This was playing more of a U.S. Open than a Masters….”

• Charles Howell III (78): “It’s a mean golf course. And you’re always seeming to be flirting on the edge with it. And there’s not a long way between shooting under par and over par out here.”

8. THE EAGLE HAS LANDED… A LITTLE LATE: Woods’ eagle on No. 15, which got him back to even par, was the first of the day at Augusta National on a par 5 (Ian Poulter’s ace at 16 came early in the day), and it didn’t come until 4:15 p.m. The last time a round was played at the Masters without an eagle on a par 5? You have to go back to the third round in 1990.

9. SERIOUSLY?: Woods’ eagle also extended another curious streak. Dating to last year, he’s gone 34 holes without a birdie, the longest streak of his Masters career. He does have two eagles in that span. The other came at No. 13 in the final round last year.

10. HAPPY ANNIVERSARY: Two players celebrating the anniversaries of their dramatic Masters victories had good fortune in the first round.

• It’s been 10 years since Mark O’Meara holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole to win the 1998 Masters. O’Meara, who has missed the cut the past two years, opened with 71 this year.

• In 1988, Sandy Lyle hit his 7-iron second shot from the fairway bunker on No. 18 to 8 feet and made birdie to beat Mark Calcavecchia by a shot. Lyle was on the leaderboard much of the afternoon Thursday – he was 3 under through 12 holes before making bogeys on Nos. 15, 16 and 17 to finish with 72.

11. CLOUD NINE: After Arnold Palmer hit a ceremonial tee shot, the start of play was delayed an hour because of thick fog. Once it cleared, the round was played in warm, sunny conditions.

12. AMATEUR HOUR: University of Alabama senior Michael Thompson played like a pro, shooting 73 Thursday. He holed a 30-foot putt with 7 feet of break on the ninth hole.

“I was hoping I’d make at least one long putt today, but it was great that it came on 9, right in front of the clubhouse and a whole bunch of people around out there,” Thompson said.

“It made me feel like a pro when I made that putt. I raised my putter up when it was about to go in, and everybody was cheering and stuff. You know, it was just a good feeling.”

• U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Trip Kuehne, making his second Masters appearance, made bogey on his final three holes to shoot 78, and British Amateur champion Drew Weaver shot 76. The Virginia Tech senior pumped his fist after making an 8-foot par putt on No. 15, then hit his tee shot on the par-3 16th to inches for his first birdie of the day.

13. COMEBACK KID: Johnson Wagner only earned his Masters invitation last Sunday, so excuse him if he wasn’t quite prepared for Augusta National’s slick greens.

“I three-putted three of my first four holes,” Wagner said, “and I came back nicely (to shoot 72).

14. THIRD TIME’S A CHARM: Justin Rose has the lead in the Masters for the third time. He also led after 18 holes last year and after 36 holes in 2004.

15. CHILD’S PLAY: How many of you adults out there have dreamt of attending the Masters since you were children?

It’s a shame you’re not between the ages of 8 and 16. If you were, you’d receive free admission to this year’s Masters, as long as you’re accompanied by a paying patron.

Seeing Tiger Woods is pretty cool when you’re 38, let alone when you’re 8.

“I got to see Tiger Woods,” 8-year-old Browning Benton gushed Thursday. “Up close!”

16. THREE’S COMPANY: Co-leader Justin Rose revealed why the leaderboard might make more sense than meets the eye: He and co-leader Trevor Immelman and Ian Poulter, who shot 70, came to practice at Augusta National for two days a couple of weeks ago.

Said Rose: “Myself, Trevor Immelman and Ian Poulter came up here from Orlando for two days, Friday and Saturday, two weeks ago. And I think what it did was it just took the pressure off the practice days this week. I didn't do more than nine holes a day. Tuesday I didn't actually play the course, just went around with some wedges and stuff. So I felt like I wasn't chasing my tail trying to learn everything this week, and therefore you come into the Tournament — I was itching to go from Monday afternoon. I was just trying to hold myself back and not get too excited too early.”

17. “24” EPISODE: Fred Couples has made every cut in his Masters career, but his streak of 23 in a row is in danger after he opened with a 76.

18. NOT SO EASY: The easiest hole on the course, the 510-yard par-5 13th hole played tough for Tiger Woods. He was looking at a possible eagle after a 4-iron to the green, but the ball rolled over the back edge and he flubbed a chip on his way to a bogey 6. Justin Rose made the last of his six birdies here to take the lead he shared after the first round with Trevor Immelman.


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