AUGUSTA, Ga. – The 82nd Masters opened with no shortage of storylines Thursday.
Here are four things we learned at Augusta National:
4. Stats say Spieth, stars well-positioned to win
You’ve heard the stat many times now: after Round One the last 12 Masters champions were under par and they were all in the top 10 at the end of the first day.
With nine of top 25 in the world all inside the top 10, there are plenty of compelling names trailing first-round leader Jordan Spieth.
Stat man extraordinaire Justin Ray tweeted that 19 of the last 21 Masters champions were within five strokes of the first-round lead. Spieth’s 18th hole bogey meant 19 players were within five of his opening 66.
The only numbers dashing hopes for those trailing Spieth? This is the ninth round of the 17 he’s played at ANGC as the leader. Spieth opened with 64 in his 2015 wire-to-wire victory when he played late and opened up a five-stroke lead after 36 holes.
3. More ominous news for those trailing Spieth
Statistically, Spieth reversed his seasonal trends in Round One.
The 185th PGA Tour player in strokes gained putting ranked fourth in that stat after Round One. Spieth would not reveal what he’s found in his putting, but the return of his flatstick prowess came in handy as he struggled with his tee shots (11 of 14 fairways) and approach play (11 of 18 greens).
Spieth’s iron play has continued to be a strength in 2018, ranking ninth in strokes gained in nine starts.
2. An old danger is lurking again at No. 15
Several players were seen earlier in the week testing out the lake bank at Augusta National’s 15th. They discovered that the lake edge’s second cut of grass was mown tighter this year, almost guaranteeing any ball headed down the slope would end up in water. This refinement of the pond treatment followed the last few years of a more forgiving bank that was sometimes holding up golf balls.
The hole location that helped produce Sergio Garcia’s 13 has been the Saturday placement the last two years, including 2016 when Billy Horschel’s ball blew into the lake.
“It’s not the first time it’s been there,” Garcia said. “But with the firmness of the greens and everything, I felt like the ball was going to stop and unfortunately for whatever reason it didn’t want to.”
The lack of a dense second cut around the lake appeared to be the most instrumental element in Garcia’s 13, the worst score in Masters 15th hole history by two strokes. That dubious achievement was accomplished by Masashi “Jumbo” Ozaki (1987), Ben Crenshaw (1997) and Ignacio Garrido (1998).
Garcia’s score came on a day when the 15th played noticeably easier — 4.644 average — than 2017’s cumulative average of 4.934.
During the first-round debacle, patrons sighed as each Garcia wedge shot reached the green front edge with no momentum. They knew there was no forgiveness below.
“I just wanted one of those to stay up for him,” said playing partner Doc Redman. “Even the first one, any of them, just because, like I said, you don’t want that to happen to anyone, so it was very difficult to watch.”
Based on what we saw Thursday, it may not be the last tough-to-watch moment at 15.
1. Tiger still hasn’t solved the first tee shot
Tiger Woods has taken a sideways approach to many opening holes in major championship golf, but even at his best the first at Augusta National seems to bring out some of his worst drives. For his career, Woods is 15-over-par at the first but did play the hole in even par in each of his last two wins here.
During Round 1, Woods sent a three-wood into the left trees.
“Hit a little fade up the left side,” he said after his opening 73. “It didn’t fade.”
A recovery to the front left of the green left him a long putt to a difficult back right hole location. The impressive two-putt salvaged the start but did not settle any concerns about his inability to solve the opening tee shot.