McClean opens Masters dream with 77: “I played much better than that”

John Shortt

Amateur Matthew McClean of Northern Ireland plays a stroke from the No. 1 tee during the first round of the 2023 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, Thursday, April 6, 2023. via Masters Media

Social media platforms were inundated with screenshots of the early Masters leaderboard with the name Matthew McClean(A) -1 after he drilled a 7-iron to kick in range on the first.

A quick refresh of newsfeeds soon gave way to more images of McClean looking down on everybody from the summit at Augusta National after he rolled in a 12-footer on the par-3 4th to skip to two-under.

Everything was going so well, until a dropped shot on five and a double bogey on seven sucked the life out of the Malone native. McClean won’t be the last person to bogey the first two holes of the famed Amen Corner and the lengthened par-5 13th proved no problem for him as he picked up his third birdie of the round.


At two-over, the optometrist was on his way to a solid Masters debut before a chastising finish left him with a mountainous task to make the halfway cut.

A bogey on 16 and a double-bogey on seventeen after a clumsy three-putt was a kick in the stomach for the 29-year-old who signed for a five-over 77. Although he was still in high spirits after his round.

“I probably deep down would have been happy with the start I had. I was flying there. But to be to disappointed with 5-over in the first round is probably the sign of I actually played pretty well.

“So, yeah, it was tough to finish it out there, but yeah, I played much better than that and pretty happy with how I played. Yeah, it’s more positives probably than negatives. The 5-over probably looks worse than how I feel about it.”

Still, the US Mid-Amateur champion can always say he held the lead at the Masters, and for a good hour as well!

“I’d like to see the second shot on 1 actually. It must have been close. I was joking, I was saying after 4, I would take a screenshot of the leaderboard there, leading the Masters.

“But, yeah, I felt fine. Yeah, it wasn’t — obviously I wasn’t thinking that I was going to shoot 6-, 7-under. I was just trying to play each hole. But, yeah, I’m sort of happy with sort of how I felt right there the whole way around, even when I was 2-under.

“I hit my first tee shot about 50 yards right on Monday in the practice round, so to stand up and birdie the 1st was great. I felt fine, so I probably felt a lot better than I expected to, to be honest. It was good day.”

At the time of writing, the Belfast man is sharing 70th place despite his superb start and he is determined to go low on Friday, whatever his fate may be.

“It’s a pretty tough start to get off to, 2-under through 4. But, yeah, I’ll just play the same sort of outlook as I did today. I felt like I could have got close to level out there today and that would have been a good round for me. I don’t know what the cut’s going to be. I’ll probably not look at it, but I’ll just try to shoot as low as I can tomorrow.”

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