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Friday, April 9, 2010

Fearless Freddie & Tom Terrific Strike Again!

Ah, yes. Some days it's good to be the old guy.

Tom Watson quietly stepped out with a bogey-free 5-under 67, tying his best-ever score, for the early lead. Should we be surprised? While everybody remembers last year at the Open, let's not forget he was low American at Dubai in January -- hardly an old man's course. Tom was trying to defuse some of the expectations in his after-round interviews (he attributed his great results to luck!), but he was clearly pleased with his play. His son is on the bag this week, and I think that bodes well for him. As a two-time Masters champ, he certainly has enough knowledge to do well here, and several of the last champs here haven't been big hitters. If he can post 3 more under-par rounds, I think he's got a good chance to beat Jack once again (as oldest Masters winner).

Of course, Tom isn't alone. Lee Westwood, with 3 near-misses in recent majors, is many people's choice as Nick Faldo's heir apparent. He too posted a 67 -- also his lowest round ever at Augusta.

Joining Tom and Lee are Y.E. Yang, the big game hunter with two Tiger pelts already under his belt; K.J. Choi, who played in Tiger's group and outscored Tiger (who had a personal best score, by the way; more on that in a minute); and Phil Mickelson -- no, not that guy who's been all over the place lately, but the guy who beat Tiger at the Tour Championship and the HSBC in China before it happened. It was nice of him to make an appearance. (Apparently Amy and the kids are with him for the first time since last year's TPC. Maybe that's a good omen for Lefty.)

And then, late in the day, who should take over the lead but Fred Couples, shooting a personal best 6-under 66. It would appear that Fred has gotten used to leading over on the Champions Tour, and believes he should get the same respect from the young upstarts. Fred is the oldest man ever to have the outright lead at the Masters.

While not scoring quite as well, Bernhard Langer and Sandy Lyle rounded out the 4 members of the "Over 50, Under Par" Club, which must be some kind of record as well.

Anthony Kim posted a strong 4-under 68. Remember, he blew everyone away by making 11 birdies in Round 2 last year; he can put up some serious numbers if he gets hot... and he's put himself in position to do just that.

Nick Watney, Ian Poulter, Ricky Barnes, and that Tiger Woods kid are also at 4-under. Tiger had a couple of personal records today -- his first score in the 60s during a first round, and his first time scoring 2 eagles during a single Masters round. So much for rust, eh? While some of this is possibly due to an easier course setup (several of the players mentioned this), everybody benefited from that but only a third of the field took advantage. In addition, Tiger did so while making a noticeable effort to be more civil to his fans and playing partners... so hat's-off to Tiger. (And Tiger said he didn't hear a single negative remark, so I also have to give a hat's-off to the patrons at Augusta. They were a class act.)

I should also mention that Adam Scott is low Australian at 3-under. Who would have predicted that?

Ernie Els is in decent shape after a double on 18 left him at 1-under 71.

Honestly, I'm a bit shocked. The big names usually post at around 2-under, with some of the rank-and-file posting lower scores before falling by the way on Friday. It looks like the big guns have come loaded for bear this year. Has Tiger's presence spurred them on? Are they determined to prove they aren't just footnotes at this Masters? Will Lassie find Timmy before he drowns in the well? (Wait, that's another post...)

Big shocks of the day? Henrik Stenson, Jim Furyk and Chris Wood, all at the back of the field after shooting 80, 80, and 78, respectively. Speaking of Wood, my other "guys to watch" were a mixed bag. Kaymer finished at 4-over, Schwartzel at 3-under, Kuchar (in Tiger's group) at 2-under, and Duval at 4-over (problems with the putter got him today). Schwartzel was my dark horse pick, and this means he could still win. Given my record for predictions lately, that IS a shock!

A personal gripe today was the online Masters leaderboard that PGATour.com linked to, which was slow to update and often posted incorrect scores early on. (For example, Fred Couples was listed at 5-under after he finished the 3rd hole.)

It appears the Par-3 Contest curse is still in effect. Winner Louis Oosthuizen carded a 6 at the par-4 10th before finishing at 3-over.

Even LPGA fans got something today. For those of you who missed it, Paula Creamer and her recently-repaired thumb made their first trip to the Masters and talked to Steve Sands at TGC. Paula looked to be doing well, although she said it was hard to just watch golf while she heals. Apparently the thumb was worse than they originally thought -- it took a fair amount of reconstructive work -- but she expects to get the cast off on Monday and hopes to be back playing soon. That's good news for the LPGA. (And for me, as I'm a big Pink Panther fan.)

Now, we all know that the first round at Augusta rarely looks anything like the last round. Still, if anybody was looking for proof that the game is bigger than Tiger, I guess they found it today. But it's good to have him back; it certainly makes things more interesting.

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