Crenshaw endures tough start to 43rd Masters

Ben Crenshaw during Thursday's first round of the Masters at Augusta National.

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Father Time has caught up with Ben Crenshaw.

It was 30 years ago that Crenshaw captured his first of two green jackets, but Thursday he limped to an 11-over 83 in the tournament’s first round at Augusta National Golf Club.

Could Friday’s climb to the 18th green put the finishing touches on his last competitive round at Augusta?

“I think about it a lot,” Crenshaw, 62, said. “I don’t think tomorrow, but it’s coming.”

Crenshaw fans, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Crenshaw might be a part-time golfer, at best, spending the bulk of his time on his thriving course-design business, but he isn't ready to call it quits at the site of his greatest triumphs. Sure, he hasn't made the cut here since 2007, and his 83 is his fourth consecutive round at Augusta National in the 80s. But this isn't the case of an athlete unwilling to accept that he no longer can compete.

“I'm not quite capable,” Crenshaw conceded. “I have to play really precise. My fairway woods have to be sharp.”

Crenshaw’s round started promisingly enough, with pars on the first three holes, but then he rode the bogey train from the fourth through eighth holes. He toured the front in 41, and things worsened when he made a triple bogey at the par-3 12th hole. Yet Crenshaw’s putter still has a little magic left, and when he holed a 15-footer at the 15th for his lone birdie of the day, he raised both hands above his head as if to say, “Hallelujah!”

Crenshaw is blessed to be making his 43rd straight start at the Masters, the longest streak of anybody playing in this year’s tournament. Only Arnold Palmer (50), Doug Ford (46) and Raymond Floyd (45) have had more consecutive starts.

“Forty-three times, my goodness,” Crenshaw said. “Since 1976 with (caddie) Carl (Jackson). That's a long time. But, no, I said something at the dinner the other night. I told Arnold, ‘We're commemorating your 50th win in '64.’ I said, ‘Gary, it's 40 years since you won, '74.’ And then I said, ‘Jack, we didn't know how to attach a year to you,’ I said, ‘You won it so many times.’ ”

Crenshaw is a father to daughters age 26, 21, and 16.

“I’m not getting older,” said Crenshaw’s wife, Julie. “Only they are.”

Yes, Crenshaw is overmatched on an Augusta course that stretches to 7,435 yards. Even in his prime, he never was a long hitter. On this day, Crenshaw was consistently outdriven by more than 50 yards by Y.E. Yang and Jonas Blixt; he barely drove past the crosswalk on the 14th hole. So why not hang up the spikes this year? Some might call it part of his stubborn Texas upbringing, but Crenshaw offered a heartfelt reason why. To Crenshaw, this year is about 60-year-old former champion Craig Stadler, who has hinted that this might be his swansong at Augusta, and Crenshaw doesn’t want to steal the spotlight.

And that’s a good-enough reason for Gentle Ben to not go gentle into that good night.

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