All eyes at Augusta were focused on Tiger Woods as he approached the first tee. His appearance is a testimony to a man who has brought a sense of outer worldliness to this event. Most people, including perhaps himself, never thought he would be put in a position of playing in this event. Yet, when interviewed on Wednesday, he stated that he was here not just merely to play but to win. As someone who wasn’t sure he was ever going to walk again a year ago, his gait throughout the first round did not display any signs of weakness. His focus has reached a new level reminding me of the steely eyes of Jack Nicklaus. Tiger has always had the focus of the champion that he is but his demeanor at this point has reached yet another level. He managed to get up and down 7 times out of 9 in his great opening round of 71 leaving him in 10th position. He is deliberate in his approach and thinking though the task one shot and a time. It is also reminded me of how Phil Mickelson conducted his approach when he won the PGA Championship at Kiawah. Tiger was pleased with his round and acknowledged the long road back by complemented his team at getting him physically ready. A physically-ready Tiger will be a force in determining his chances for victory–his certainly has the experience at Augusta to pull it off.
Golf always presents a number of unusual situations that you will experience for the first time. The word “shank” was uttered by a player (who will remain nameless) as he dunked his approach to the green on number 13 into the ditch in front of the green. I never thought I would hear that word uttered by a professional inside the ropes during a tournament. Cameron Smith blitzed the course with a barrage of birdies from holes 2-17. Unfortunately, double bogeys on holes 1 and 18 deprived him of the opportunity to lead the tournament but no one has ever shot below 70 at Augusta with 2 double bogeys as he did today.
My favorite to win, Jon Rahm, is not at the top of the leader board and struggling to stay in contention. If he can make the cut, I still think he can contend. Harold Varner is really playing well and maybe a factor on Sunday. His eagle on number 13 yesterday was very impressive and he followed it up with a birdie on 14 to get into red figures. Sungjae Im always seems to perform well here and starting the tournament with 3 consecutive birdies propelled him to the lead-he had four birdies and an eagle on 13 but bogeyed 10 and 11.
The 18th hole is proving to be a very difficult tee shot this year with a number of players driving it into the straw on the right side of the fairway. It’s virtually impossible to make the green from that position as a number of players found out yesterday The 11th hole will also play a bit differently as the fairway has been widened but mounding around the green has dramatically increased the difficulty of making par if the green is missed to the right.
Weather conditions for the second round could turn brutal as the wind is entering the fray, which will also also dry out the greens and make them even faster. It was also be colder than day 1 and so it’s a completely different day from Day 1.