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Friday, April 8, 2011

Thursday Lows at the Masters

First, let me mention one of the "highs" of the first day at the Masters:

Before play started, Mike Davis from the USGA (speaking for the R&A also) announced a new rule designed to eliminate player DQs because an unintentional rule infraction was discovered on video after play had ended. You may remember that Padraig Harrington got DQed when his ball moved so slightly that it could only be seen in a slo-mo replay -- which is just what happened during a tape-delayed broadcast after the round had ended. (Bear in mind that neither Paddy nor his playing partners could identify this infraction at the time it occurred. The USGA and R&A are taking the position that, if an infraction can be identified in any manner, it must be enforced.)

Under the new rule, Paddy would be assessed 2 penalty strokes and allowed to keep playing. Just for the record, Camilo Villegas would have still been DQed because ignorance of the rules is not excused under this rule.

I wrote about the need for such a rule several months ago and, while I doubt they paid attention to my post, it was nice to see this problem finally addressed. I even heard it called "the Harrington Rule," the same term I used because it was Paddy's DQ that prompted my post. Golf Channel showed officials making a special trip to the range to tell Paddy about the new rule! Cool stuff.

Now on to the "lows" of the day, bearing in mind that Sunday's leaderboard rarely looks like Thursday's:
  • Low Young Gun: Rory McIlroy's 65 (-7) was enough to grab the early lead... and good enough to stay there. How good was it? Here's all you need to know: BOGEY-FREE. Wow.
  • Low Bomber: Alvaro Quiros matched McIlroy at the end of the day. His 65 was a full ten shots better than any round he ever shot at Augusta National!
  • Low Previous Low Am: This one's a tie. Matt Kuchar and Ricky Barnes, both low amateurs at past Masters, posted 68s (-4) to keep the rivalry going.
  • Low Past Winner: Trevor Immelman has really been fighting injuries since his Masters win, but he finally seems to be healthy. His 69 (-3) was the lowest of the past champions.
  • Low New Kid on the Block: This one's a no-brainer. Gary Woodland not only posted a 69 for lowest score among the rookies, but he blistered the final six holes in -6 to do it (eagle, par, 4 birdies).
  • Low Tiger: While nobody really expected much from Tiger, he still posted a 71, placing him T24 -- a very typical first-round Tiger score. Only once has he shot better than 70 in the first round (that was last year), and his first round average is well over 72. In other words, we still don't know where Tiger's game is.
  • Low Favorite: Of course, that would be Phil. He posted a 70 (a single bogey on the 18th kept him out of the 60s) but even he had mixed feelings about it. See, he only hit 4 or 5 fairways, which makes this sound like a great score... until you realize he still missed putts for another 4 or 5 birdies. That's what got under Phil's skin -- that much was clear from his after-round greenside interview. Still, he's very much in position, currently T14.
  • Low Cursed Player: That would be my pick, Luke Donald. Burdened by the par-3 curse, he was +3 coming out of Amen Corner. But suddenly, he played 14-16 in birdie, eagle, birdie to get in red figures before a bogey on 17 put him back to even, where he finished. At T31, he's still very much in this one, and an early tee time may give him a chance to make up ground today.
  • Low Amateur: This was a three-way tie between David Chung, Hideki Matsuyama, and Peter Uilein. Still, the worst of the amateurs was +3, which is nothing to be ashamed of. As Curtis Strange pointed out, several of the pros would have paid good money for those scores!
When it comes to surprise lows, I have to split the "honors" as there are two ways you could interpret this category:
  • Surprise Low Point: I don't know which surprised me more -- Henrik Stenson's +11, which put him dead last in the field, or Martin Kaymer's +6, which is just a shocking score for the World #1. I'd have never guessed either one would happen. (Paddy's +5 doesn't count here because he was playing with a neck injury.)
  • Surprise Low Score: No question -- and this is a really pleasant surprise -- Sergio Garcia's 69, which placed him T7 in the field. After a couple of bogeys in the middle third of his round, Sergio rallied to post eagle-birdie on 14 and 15. He was smiling almost everytime I saw him during the round, and even a bogey on the 18th didn't seemed to dampen his spirits. I guess that time off really helped him! A happy Sergio in contention at a major is a good thing.
So now you've got the scoop on Thursday. The cut will be at either (1) Top 44 and ties or (2) everybody within 10 shots of the lead, whichever is less. What surprises will "cut day" give us?

Well, one thing's for sure. More than a few players will experience "lows" of their own tonight!

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