AUGUSTA, Ga. — If Golf Twitter was representative of society at large, it’s safe to assume not much work got done after 10 a.m. on Thursday. Outside of March Madness opening weekend, the first round of the Masters might just be the leading productivity-killing event on the sports calendar.
But then you remember there’s a whole other world out there, a world full of people who actually have to do “real work” on “a week day.”
With those fine folks in mind, we recapped a wild start to the 2023 Masters below to catch you up to speed. Here’s everything you missed on Thursday at Augusta National while your head was buried in paperwork or you were making copies or avoiding a stop-and-chat with Glen in the break room or whatever it else it is you poor souls have to do in the real world.
As long as Rory McIlroy’s major drought continues, fans and media will always hunt for reasons as to why he hasn’t gotten over the hump since the 2014 Open Championship. Among the most popular angles is the fact he often gets off to slow starts, which was objectively true up until last season, when he kicked off the PGA at Southern Hills with a 65, the U.S. Open at Brookline with a 67 and the Open Championship at St. Andrews with a 66. Of course, none of those starts resulted in victories, but it was nice to see him not put himself in an early hole as usual.
You’ll notice we didn’t include his first-round score in the 2022 Masters, likely because he’s still yet to shake the slow-start narrative in the one major he needs to complete the career grand slam. He opened with a 73 a season ago at Augusta National, a 76 the year before that, a 75 in the 2020 COVID Masters a few months earlier and a 73 in 2019. He’s broken 70 … wait for it … ONCE in the opening round since 2011, when he opened with a 65 (we all know what happened after that).
He did not make it a second time Thursday in 2023, opening with an even-par 72 that has him seven shots back of the leaders. We know he was the firepower to go crazy low over the next few days and get back in the mix, but seven-shot holes, while not insurmountable, are extremely difficult to climb out of. Even an incredible final-round 64 a year ago was only enough to lose by three to Scottie Scheffler. It’d be thrilling to see him pull off a repeat of that this year, and it actually feels likely with the wet weather coming (see: Congressional, 2011). But it’s difficult to shake the feeling that he already may be too far behind.
To further highlight how impossible of a task McIlroy has ahead of him, he’d have to leapfrog 41 players over the next 54 holes and then he meets the final boss, Jon Rahm, assuming Rahm doesn’t take a mighty tumble. Given the way he responded to an opening four-putt double bogey on Thursday, it’s fair to assume he’ll be there until the very end. The Spaniard went nine under over the next 17 holes, finishing with a seven-under 65 to grab a share of the first-round lead. As a noted gambler, I don’t even want to know how juicy the odds were to live bet him as first-round leader after that brutal start.
Yeah, that’ll do it. That might do the trick.
Well, well, well, if it isn’t the consequences of our own actions. We all thought the LIV guys wouldn’t be sharp, we all figured we were jumping the gun thinking Brooks Koepka was back based off a 54-hole victory, we all thought the Netflix show portrayed a broken man who couldn’t hang with the Scottie Schefflers of the world. Then, an admittedly fully healthy Koepka went out and reverted to the guy we came to know—a big-game hunter. The boogeyman of the majors. He matched Rahm (and Viktor Hovland’s) 65 on Thursday, and he did so in the same clinical fashion that he showed at Erin Hills, Shinnecock, Bellerive and Bethpage. His demise was greatly exaggerated. Hollywood-ized, some would say.
Tyrrell Hatton … still not a fan of Augusta National
Hatton was quite vocal about his disdain for Augusta National last year, and his scores reflected it. Apparently, his feelings haven’t changed, but the score improved in a big way Thursday. OK, it was just a one-under 71, but that’s a stark jump from his 79-80 weekend a year ago. Also, he made par on 15, naturally.
Making any sort of declarations on Thursday is a foolish exercise, and yet we’ve already done it once here with Koepka and we’re going to do it again now. This could be an all-time great Masters based off of the Day 1 B-O-A-R-D board:
This screenshot also cut off reigning U.S. Amateur winner Sam Bennett, who went bogey-free on Thursday. Sam Burns is also at four under, while Justin Rose, Collin Morikawa, Jordan Spieth and Tony Finau are all at three under. We didn’t undersell it, did we? Let’s have a weekend (and a Monday and possibly a Tuesday based off the forecast).
Tiger Woods’ make-the-cut prospects look … grim (But not Phil and Fred’s)
To the surprise of no one, Tiger Woods grinded his face off in his opening round, eeking out a two-over 74 thanks to a pair of face-saving birdies at 15 and 16. With a late tee time on Friday, he’ll have plenty of time to recover, but inclement weather could possibly cut his second round short, which means extra golf for his beaten and broken down body whenever play resumes on what’s supposed to be a Open Championship-like weather weekend. That’s … not good. Woods needed something under par on Thursday to feel like he was in the tournament. A 74 feels like a week-ender with what the future holds.
The same can’t be said for Phil Mickelson and Fred Couples, who are a combined 115 years old and shot a combined two under on Thursday (both shot 71s). That’s one better than guys named McIlroy, Ancer and Fleetwood, so these old dogs can clearly still hunt, especially in the comfy confines of Augusta. Still plenty of work to do to guarantee themselves 72 holes, but an important objective of their missions were accomplished in shooting under par.