Masters rookies enjoy good rounds, endure bad

Jordan Spieth during Thursday's first round of the 2014 Masters at Augusta National.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – When Jonas Blixt won the PGA Tour’s Frys.com Open in October 2012, he thought he had punched his ticket to his first Masters. Only Blixt didn’t know that, at the time, winning a Fall Series event didn’t earn an invite to April’s big dance. He was crestfallen. One year later, he took care of business, winning the Greenbrier Classic and the right to play Augusta National this week. In front of family and friends, Blixt made his Masters debut and enjoyed every minute of it.

“I just got a good feeling being on the grounds,” Blixt said. “It's a soothing feeling.”

So was seeing his name at the top of the leaderboard for part of the day. Blixt blasted a fairway wood for his second shot to the par 5, 13th hole and it landed on the front of the green before making a beeline toward the pin set on the back right of the terraced green. The ball stopped 6 feet past the hole.

“I hit it really skinny,” Blixt said. “We were really worried it was not going to carry the creek. And when it got over the creek we kind of knew it was going to be good.”

Blixt missed the eagle putt but the tap-in birdie lifted him to 4 under par before a couple of late bogeys at 15 and 18 dropped him back to 2-under 70 and a tie for fifth place. Blixt, one of a record 24 first-time competitors at the Masters, wasn’t the only one to get off to a good start in his debut.

Jimmy Walker, 35, and Kevin Stadler, 34, endured lengthy waits for their chance to play at Augusta. They matched Blixt with 70 as Walker birdied four holes in a row between Nos. 14-17 and Stadler made four birdies and two bogeys playing early.

Earning a chance to compete in the Masters may not have been a longtime coming for Jordan Spieth, 20, but he savored the moment nonetheless.

“I don’t know if it’s on camera or not, but as I walked to the ball kind of visualizing my shot I kind of had a smile on my face,” said Spieth, who shot 71. “I just soaked it in. It was really cool.”

Not everyone had a debut performance to remember. Graham DeLaet posted 80, Matt Every had 77 and Derek Ernst carded a 76, a score none of the six amateurs in the field was able to better. Harris English, 24, shot 74 and summarized the lessons he and many of the newcomers learned from Thursday’s rude awakening.

“You can play as many practice rounds as you want,” said English, who had played the course 10 or 11 times before today, “but I’ve never played it like this. The greens have firmed up. The pins are in some really tough spots. You have to be patient out there. People always tell me to be patient at this place, but it’s hard to make yourself do it.”

He and the other 24 rookies will have another crack at it tomorrow, and with a dollop of experience under their belt.

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