AUGUSTA, Ga. – No nerves. No worries. Adam Scott never knew the opening round at Augusta National could be so enjoyable.
With his green jacket upstairs in the locker room for Masters champions, Scott made only one bad swing that cost him two shots in a round of 3-under 69. It was the lowest opening score by a defending champion in 13 years, and it left Scott one shot behind leader Bill Haas on an otherwise demanding day.
“It was really how you hope to come out and play at any major, and especially the Masters,” Scott said. “And there’s no doubt winning the Masters last year had me a little more comfortable on the first tee than I’ve ever been in the past, because I didn’t have the legs shaking and nerves jangling for six or seven holes like usual.”
Haas, with a rich family history at Augusta that includes a green jacket for his great uncle Bob Goalby, settled down after an opening bogey with a collection of good birdie putts and an 8-iron to 5 feet for birdie on the 18th for a 68.
It was the first time in 18 majors that Haas has had the lead after any round. That only gets him a crystal vase for the low round of the day at the Masters. Haas knows better than to put too much stock into what happens Thursday. He was leading after the opening round in Houston last week and tied for 37th.
“There’s tons of golf left,” he said.
Only one first-round leader in the last 30 years has gone on to win the Masters.
Former Masters champion Bubba Watson, who slipped that green jacket on Scott last year, played his first bogey-free round in a major since the 2009 U.S. Open and shot a 69. So did Louis Oosthuizen, whom Watson beat in a playoff at Augusta.
They were the only players to break 70, the fewest for an opening round at the Masters since 2007.
“No one is really going crazy out there in perfect, perfect conditions,” Graeme McDowell said after fighting to salvage a 72.
But there was something about the way Scott played that grabbed most of the attention on such a gorgeous spring day in the South. Golf has been waiting for a star to take control all year, even more without Tiger Woods at Augusta for the first time in 20 years because of back surgery.
Scott was in control of his emotions and his game all day – except for once.
Walking over to the heart of Amen Corner, the fans behind the 12th tee rose in unison to cheer the champ.
“The memory that will stick with me forever today was walking up to the 12th tee and everyone getting out of their seats as I approached there,” Scott said. “It was great, the level of respect that everyone has for this golf tournament and what happens here.
“But then,” he said with a smile, “I went and hit it in the water.”
Scott’s tee shot bounced off the front slope and into Rae’s Creek – amazingly, he said it was his first shot into the water on that hole – and he made double bogey to fall out of the outright lead. He picked up a birdie on the 14th, and three-putted for par on both the par 5s on the back nine.
Still, there were few complaints.
Augusta National officials knew this would be a gentle day of weather, and it was clear they made sure the course was anything but that. The hole locations were severe for an opening round. With endless sunshine, the greens became firmer and quicker by the hour.
So many others paid the price.
Jason Dufner took a quadruple-bogey 9 on the 13th hole with only one penalty shot. The worst of his woes was a wedge from the drop area that didn’t even make it to the creek. He wound up with an 80 in his first round in a major since winning the PGA Championship last summer.
He was in good company. Phil Mickelson had a pair of 7s on his card for the first time in five years at a major, and his 76 matched the highest opening round at Augusta for the three-time Masters champion. U.S. Open champion Justin Rose shot 40 on the front and scrambled for a 76.
Jason Day had a 75 in his first event in six weeks.
Vijay Singh also opened with a 69 when he was the defending champion in 2001, but that was different. Conditions were easier that year, and Singh was four shots behind. On this day, only 19 players broke par.
Jimmy Walker, Kevin Stadler and Jonas Blixt – among the record 24 newcomers to the Masters – were in the group at 70. The group at 71 included young (20-year-old Jordan Spieth) and old (54-year-old Fred Couples), and a former No. 1 in Rory McIlroy.
“It was just on one of those days it was tough to get it close to the hole,” McIlroy said. “Anything under par today was a good score.”
And it felt even better when one of those scores belonged to a Masters champion – in this case, two of them. Watson was asked about his comfort level at Augusta.
“The comfort level is knowing you have a green jacket already,” he said.
Another Masters champion, Mike Weir, opened with a respectable 1-over 73.