AUGUSTA, Ga. — A frenetic first day of the 2018 Masters began with two grandfathers loosening up in the early morning cold and ended with Jordan Spieth lighting up Augusta National for a first-round 66. But plenty happened in between. Who were the winners and losers on Day 1 at Augusta National? Let’s break it down with our Thursday edition of birdies and bogeys:
Birdie: Jordan Spieth
Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising given his record here—a win and two runner-ups; at least a share of the lead in eight of his last Masters 14 rounds—but if you factor in Spieth’s fairly flat start to 2018, this six-under 66 was still a resounding reminder that no one feels more at home at Augusta National. Spieth did finish T-3 last week in Houston, but it was more the way he meticulously navigated his opening 18 holes, including five straight birdies on the back nine, that suggests Spieth has emerged from his early season malaise and is primed to contend for a fourth career major.
Bogey: Sergio Garcia
It didn’t ALL fall apart on the 15th hole. The defending Masters champion was already two over by the time he arrived at the exacting par 5, but it was there where he was reminded that Augusta National takes as much as it gives … and then if it wants to, it will take even more. Five balls in the water. A record eight-over-par 13. It all added up to an opening 81, which all but assures that Garcia’s Sunday’s duties at Augusta National will consist of giving the green jacket away and nothing more.
Birdie: Tony Finau
Could he play? Could he WALK? There was plenty to discuss about the 28-year-old heading into Thursday, but contending on a bum ankle seemed like a reach. Yet Finau, who dislocated his left ankle after falling awkwardly in the Par 3 Contest, then popped it back in moments later, not only made it to the first tee, he holed out on 18 with a brief share of the lead. An opening 68 in his first Masters, two shots behind leader Spieth, would have been impressive in any context. Doing so given the follies of the day before was truly remarkable.
Bogey: Tiger Woods
We’ll get to the positives of Woods’ return to Augusta in a second, but first, allow us some nitpicks about his opening 73. Woods failed to birdie any of the par 5s on Thursday, and his driver play is still enough of a hole-by-hole adventure that he’s spraying it to both sides. Seven strokes off the lead after Thursday, it’s difficult to imagine him seriously contending if he continues on the same trajectory. Then again …
Birdie: Tiger Woods
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This was Woods’ first competitive round at Augusta National in three years, and he did rally with two birdies in a three-hole stretch on the back nine. Maybe a 73 was a disappointment for a player who was the Vegas betting favorite and had registered top-fives in each of his last two starts. By the other, he seemed to find his footing by day’s end, and Thursday’s round was still a stroke better than the last time he won the Masters, in 2005.
Bogey: Dustin Johnson
Another 73 for a player returning after an absence from Augusta National, only in Johnson, we’re talking about the No. 1 player in the world. As you surely have heard by now, Johnson missed last year’s Masters when he slipped on a set of stairs and injured his back, disrupting the momentum of a player who was the clear favorite to capture a green jacket. A strong start Thursday would have helped further distance Johnson from that disappointment, but he instead found himself three over par through 10, and was fortunate to claw his way back from the brink on the back nine.
Birdie: Rory McIlroy
Although he’s registered top-10s in his last four Masters appearances, McIlroy had only broken 70 once in the first round at Augusta National. That was in 2011, when he shot 65 to start then famously squandered a four-shot lead in the final round. The second time came Thursday, when McIlroy’s 69 placed him three shots behind Spieth, giving him perhaps his best chance to complete the career Grand Slam this week.