AUGUSTA, Ga. – To paraphrase Bob Dylan, the answers at Augusta National during the opening round of the 2017 Masters were not blowing in the wind. In fact, the wind, gusting upwards of 60 km/h, left the players scratching their heads. There were more questions than answers.
Charley Hoffman’s 7-under-par 65 leads by four, the first time he’s ever led in a major after 67 rounds. It was an anomaly – Canadian Mackenzie Hughes called it the “round of 2017” – as the rest of the leaderboard sees just 10 others under par.
The tournament remains wide open, as the wind is set to pick up even more Friday afternoon.
It was a mental grind Thursday, and seeing the best in the world with confused looks normally reserved for university students taking their final exams wasn’t a fun start for the first major of the year – for observers or players.
“I had a ball that was three feet from the hole. I’d marked it, put it back, and it rolled to 12 feet. It’s very difficult conditions, and borderline (unplayable) today,” stated Adam Scott, a former Masters champion.
Canadian Adam Hadwin was paired with two major championship winners – Zach Johnson and Louis Oosthuizen – who hit shots normally reserved for local public courses, not Augusta National.
Mother Nature and her unpredictability flummoxed them on Thursday.
On the par-3 4th, Oosthuizen’s tee shot landed a good 20 yards short of the green. He would go on to make bogey from there and shot a 5-over-par 77. Meanwhile Johnson left his approach on the par-4 9th 25 feet short of the pin, and ended up spinning it well off the green. He would match Oosthuizen’s round of 77.
It wasn’t just the news of Dustin Johnson’s withdrawal that blew through Augusta National Thursday, but the high winds wrecked havoc on the world’s best.
“I’ve never seen it like this,” said 1992 Masters champion Fred Couples of Augusta National on this day.
Pants were whipping against legs. Sweaters would come on and off. Rounds were lasting nearly six hours. Players wore toques (but not our hearty Canadians, no. Weir, for example, made it around 18 holes in just a polo shirt).
It’s likely Augusta National sold more hot coffee than cold beers since, well, ever.
The world’s finest golfers continually appeared to choose the wrong club, and stared at their caddies in disbelief as their shots and putts ended up way off line.
Rory McIlroy, paired with young Spanish sensation Jon Rahm both struggled on the green on the par-4 14th, for example. McIlroy cussed and swept his putter aggressively at the hole after another miss, while Rahm, a Masters rookie, could only laugh in spite of where a putt ended up. Rahm finished at 1-over, while McIlroy was Even.
Augusta National, the most mind-bending of all golf courses on the planet, is tough enough as it is. Add in unpredictable winds, and you’ve got a recipe for, not disaster, but a day when shrugs would certainly outnumber smiles.
In the ultimate of tragedies, it was Act II of the Jordan Spieth Saga that was the most painstaking. Spieth made a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 15th after knocking his approach in the water (with a wedge) and three-putting.
It was, in a word, weird. Jordan Spieth is not supposed to do that at Augusta National. He blamed it on the wind (of course) and poor course strategy. But perhaps, like many other relationships, the one he has with Augusta National has just hit a rough patch. The love they had for each other has become unrequited, as Spieth’s shot four straight rounds over par here since leading after the first round in 2016.
Act I of the Jordan Spieth Saga was, of course, when he made a seven on the par-3 12th a year ago, ruining his chances for a second consecutive Masters win.
With Thursday at the Masters down – and down the World No.1 – it remains anyone’s tournament. Those who went through the afternoon’s turbulent ride will get to play in the morning, where it is set to be calmer.
“This golf course is fun to play, you’ve got to hit shots and quality golf shots, especially in the wind, so the tournament’s far from over,” said Rickie Fowler, who shot 1-over.
And, he’s right.
The same questions will keep blowing in the wind Friday, and whoever finds the answers will be the one on top come the weekend.