Reflections on Masters day one

Mark McGowan

Scottie Scheffler (Photo by Raj Mehta/Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

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You rarely see a poor bookmaker, and there was a reason why they set Scottie Scheffler’s odds so low going into the Masters. At 9/2 (and even 4/1) in some places, there was just no way you could touch him, not when most were offering eight or 10 places in each-way markets and there were enough tempting names at bigger value.

But after 18 holes for Scheffler and as few as 10 holes for some, 9/2 is looking like extremely good value. It was the seemingly effortless way that he constructed his opening 66 that was the most impressive. Hitting 12 of 14 fairways in 30mph winds and 14 of 18 greens (and two of these missed GIRs saw him putting from the fringe, as good as on the green – he’d also incidentally play those four in -1).

With calm weather expected for days two, three and four, it seems unthinkable that he won’t shoot three- or four-under on each of them. And even if it’s the former, he’ll reach -16, a tally that’s been good enough to win 11 of the last 13 Masters tournaments.

But thankfully, it’s rarely that simple. Calm conditions could also mean we’ll see a few bolters from the pack. Max Homa is -4 through 13 and could easily join Scheffler or Bryson DeChambeau who’s a shot further ahead. Bryson is more than capable of matching Scheffler round for round and Tommy Fleetwood is two-under through 10 and Ludvig Aberg the same through 11.

The difference being that we’re expecting each of these to drop shots along the way and with Scheffler, we’re not. There’s a sneaky suspicion that only early onset of labour for Scheffler’s wife, Meredith could stand between him and a second Green Jacket.

Rory McIlroy’s 10th quest for the Career Grand Slam mixed the good with the bad, and you can’t help but feel that playing alongside the machine that is the world number one didn’t help. A man that traditionally eats up par-5s for breakfast, once again, failure to take advantage of the longer holes at Augusta National have proven detrimental to his chances.

Scheffler played the four in -3, Rory played them in level-par. That’s not the sole difference of course – it only accounts for three of the five strokes between them – but it’s symptomatic of a man trying too hard since the worst tee shots McIlroy hit came on the second and the 13th. Not that they’re easy tee shots, but hitting it where he did gave him no chance of reaching the green and made birdie tough. Still, you wouldn’t expect him to play them in +1 given that he 105 yards into two and 81 yards into 13.

He did hit good drives on eight and 15, the other two par-5s, and though he made a good two-putt birdie on eight, watching Scheffler hit first and flag his second on 15 was the last thing Rory needed before hitting his own from 20 yards closer. He was lucky that the rain had softened the course, otherwise he’d most likely have seen that ball trickle back into the creek short of the green. By this stage, even though DeChambeau had posted -7, it was obvious to all that Scheffler was the real danger man, so Rory was chasing and feeling the heat a little and that’s never a good place to be at Augusta National.

Given that he missed a short birdie putt on one, another on 16 and from similar distance at two, that Rory ended the day in plus figures in Strokes-Gained-Putting is due to the fact that he holed several five- and six-footers throughout the round, but if you keep leaving yourself those, you’re inevitably going to miss a couple and that’s exactly what happened on the aforementioned holes.

Scheffler? He ranks exactly one place below McIlroy in the SGP standings for day one, but leads the field in Tee-To-Green so it’s clear to see where the difference was.

As for Bryson…. We’ve missed him. He’s batsh*t crazy, but how wonderful is that in a game where characters are increasingly becoming hard to find. He got lucky at times – as did Scottie on 13 – the conditions he played in were a little easier on average, and it seemed as though he holed everything he looked at, so maintaining that level of performance is going to be tough to sustain. But damnit, it’s great to have him back. That’s why the major championships will only go from strength to strength as long as LIV and the PGA Tour remain separate entities with no criss-crossing allowed.

And what about Tiger? I’ve got to hold my hands up and admit I was sceptical, but even though he’s only got 13 holes in the books and a gruelling – for a man who’s held together by metal – 23 to look forward to on day two, how great was it to see him grind a red-figured number for those 13 holes? He’s not going to win – I think even he knows that deep down – but making the cut and setting what will probably be the last record in a career littered with broken records would be win enough.

There’s still a lot of golf to be played and all the greats of the modern game – Talor Gooch excepted – are in the field, and there’s sure to be plenty of fireworks over the next three days. But the narrative now is the same as what the narrative was yesterday, last week and the week before….

Who can stop Scottie Scheffler?

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