April 7, 2016 will go down as the most bizarre opening round I have witnessed in my 13 years attending the Masters.
At first glance at the leaderboard, one might come to the conclusion that things played out as expected — big names on top, major champions in the hunt and no shortage of drama around golf’s biggest stage.
However, if you watched the broadcast Thursday, you would have been treated to a number of unexplainable events that go against all Masters’ logic.
You don’t need to look any further than our leader, world No. 2 Jordan Spieth. If you tuned in to our TSN Post Game show and the lead story was that Spieth hit only 12 greens, 57 per cent of his fairways and was hitting the ball so poorly that he averaged a mere 262.5 off the tee, the assumption would be he had a rough ride around Augusta National. Instead, he managed to put together a bogey-free round of 66! I guess that old cliché “drive for show and putt for dough” is right.
Spieth had only 25 putts in round one, highlighted by a 10-of-11 performance from inside 12 feet. He’s lead the Masters since the opening round of the 2015 edition. Spieth is the best putter in the world when it counts, but he’s going to need to improve his ball striking if he’s going to join Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, and Tiger Woods as back-to-back champions.
Then there’s the Danny Lee story. First timers are not supposed to do well around Augusta National. Lee played the tournament as the reigning U.S. Amateur Champion seven years ago, but the 2016 Masters is his first as a professional after a long absence. Lee was solid, shooting a 4-under 68 Thursday to grab a share of second place. What’s bizarre is that another Masters’ principle was completely ignored in the process. The rule of thumb at Augusta is you take advantage of Par 5s on the back side, and hold on for dear life on holes 10 through 12
Not Lee, who birdied 10 (the third-hardest hole in round one), parred 11 (the most difficult hole, averaging .528 strokes over par) and birdied the par-3 12th (the fourth-most difficult, and a hole that gave us multiple car crashes that included five double bogeys or worse). That’s unique from Lee, but what makes it truly bizarre is that he parred the second-easiest hole of the day, the par-5 13th, and followed it with another par at the gettable par-5 15th. He had a great bogey-free back nine of 33, but it was a bizarre way of getting there.
Finally there’s Ernie Els, the four-time major champion and World Golf Hall Of Fame member who made every single golfer on the planet cringe with a putting performance on the first green that stirred memories of Jean van de Velde.
Ernie opened his 2016 Masters with a six-putt nine! If that isn’t scary enough, all six putts were within three feet of the hole, an absolutely bizarre turn of events.
“I can’t explain it,” Els said. “I couldn’t get the putter back. I was standing there, I’ve got a three-footer, I’ve made thousands of three-footers and I just could take the putter back.” We’ve all been there and we all feel for Els. It was very hard to watch.
There is something in the air in Augusta this year; you can’t explain it and you can’t necessarily understand it. What we do know is that this tournament is no stranger to crazy finishes: Larry Mize in ’87, Greg Norman’s collapse of ’96, Tom Watson from darkness on number 10 in 2012.
If Thursday is any indication of what’s to come, we’re in for a quite a weekend at the Masters.