In the second of three reports, Drew Williamson gives us his take on The Masters early rounds.
Jill and I spent over 11 hours out on the grounds on Thursday. We were sweating the thunderstorms in the forecast, but all for naught; it turned out to be a beautiful day—and a day for the players to score.
Priority number one was to make it to the 1st tee in time to witness the Honorary Starters’ tee shots, and the commemoration of same by the Augusta brass, at 7:50 a.m. EDT sharp. I’m very pleased to report that we not only succeeded in getting there, but also succeeded in securing prime viewing spots directly behind—and all but on—the tee. Seeing Nicklaus, Palmer and Player—and their combined 13 Masters titles—tee off together right in front of us shortly after sunrise to officially begin play at the 77th Masters was an experience I can’t adequately describe, but one I know I’ll never forget.
In completely unplanned fashion, we spent the ensuing three-and-a-half hours there on the 1st tee, watching the first 16 of the 31 groups playing on Thursday tee off. We spent the balance of the day in all manner of spots along the course, the 8th tee, 10th green, 11th tee, 12th tee, 16th tee and 17th green chief among them. A few observations:
1. As much of a gentleman as he clearly is, Jack also quite clearly expects perfection of—or, failing that, at a minimum significantly outdriving Arnie and Gary with—his ceremonial tee shot. You can take the Bear out of the competition, but you quite clearly cannot take the competition out of the Bear. Really makes me wonder how epic his battles with Tiger would have been had they been in their primes simultaneously.
2. I am thoroughly convinced that Graeme McDowell is a stellar dude who would be an absolute blast on a pub crawl. As he was patiently waiting for Charl Schwartzel to find his shockingly errant banana slice of a tee shot on 1 and somehow get it back on the fairway—a process that took a full nine minutes—so that he could tee off himself, McDowell chatted up and joked with his playing partners (Zach Johnson and K.J. Choi), the starter and the patrons the entire length of Schwartzel’s nightmare. He then calmly proceeded to par the hole. Love that guy.
3. Bubba Watson, on the other hand, is as tight as a drum when he’s inside the ropes and couldn’t engage any less with his playing partners, the patrons or really even his caddy if he tried. This morning, he was paired with Ian Poulter and Steven Fox, the 22-year-old reigning U.S. Amateur Champion from Tennessee-Chattanooga. The poor kid’s hands were shaking like a leaf when he got to the 1st tee. As reigning Masters champ, all Bubba had to do was walk over to the kid and say something like “Dude, how cool is this? Have fun out there today!” and Fox probably would’ve posted an epic number like the 14-year-old kid from China did. Would’ve been so easy for Bubba to have been an ambassador in that particular instance. Instead, he was just grinding, all by himself. Very unbecoming of a Masters champion.
4. Speaking of unbecoming of a Masters champion, Schwartzel’s driver is a white-hot mess. He literally has no idea where the ball’s going to go after he hits it. That has to be disturbing for him as a player; it certainly was for me as a patron.
5. Tiger is a machine inside the ropes and has an aura about him reminiscent of Jordan.
6. Peter Hanson is about to eat himself out of the game. Seems like a likeable guy, but he needs to reel it in a bit.
7. Speaking of eating, I chased a sausage biscuit ($2.00) with an egg salad sandwich ($1.50) and a “domestic beer” ($3.00) for breakfast this morning. Best $6.50 I’ve ever spent, hands down.
8. Fred Couples was lights-out today, and the patrons—yours truly included—loved every minute of it. I just hope that he—and his ailing back—can keep it up. Sadly, I have reservations about all of this.
9. I also have reservations about Sergio’s mental state and whether it will allow him to stay in contention.
10. Ben Crenshaw and Tom Watson exude total class in everything they do, even when they’re retrieving a tee after a drive.
11. The 11th tee is a brilliant viewing spot, and judging by how few people were back there, very few people know that.
12. The only buzzkill of the day was witnessing Craig Stadler absolutely implode on 10. After a textbook drive down the middle of and into the flat of the fairway, he flubbed his approach shot onto the fringe of the greenside bunker and then proceeded to (a) chip into said bunker, (b) take three—yes, three—shots to get out of it and onto the green and (c) two-putt for a crowd-pleasing quadruple-bogey 8. To add insult to injury, the poor guy also struggled to extract himself from the bunker. I’m as much of a Walrus fan as the next guy, but after 37 Masters tournaments in 59 years, I think that his time to join Casper, Goalby, Zoeller, etc. on the list of “Invitees Who Are Present and Not Participating” may be upon him.
13. What a phenomenal day.
To read Drew’s practice round report, click here.