My Five: Best Masters Opening Rounds

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My Five: Best Masters Opening Rounds

April 07, 2011

Greg Norman (63, 1996)The tantalizing prelude to a disaster for the 41-year-old, who was taking his last best chance at a green jacket. After opening with six straight pars, Norman birdied nine of the last 12, ending with a 24-foot birdie on the 18th. He hit 16 of 18 greens and had 27 putts for nines of 33 and 30 to tie the course record. "Hey, let it happen," said Norman, who took a two-stroke lead over Phil Mickelson. "Let the reins of the horse go and let him run as fast as he wants to run. That's what I did today.'' The horse would get away from him on Sunday, which he started with a six-stroke lead but collapsed with a 78 to lose by five to Nick Faldo.

Lloyd Mangrum (64, 1940)Mangrum's round established the course record, which was not equaled until Jack Nicklaus' third round in 1965. But Mangrum didn't break 70 in the next three rounds, and he finished second, four shots behind Jimmy Demaret. Still a struggling pro at the time, Mangrum soon after enlisted in the Army, winning a Purple Heart and fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. He returned to the game a hardened character known for his cool under pressure, and soon won his only major championship, the 1946 U.S. Open.

Mike Donald (64, 1990)Donald made eight birdies and no bogeys in his first Masters. "It was the round of my life," said the 34-year-old journeyman. "I played a lot of rounds as a kid thinking about the Masters and I never shot that good then." He added, "I don't expect to shoot another 64 tomorrow, but at least people will remember me even if I shoot 75." Instead, Donald shot 82, barely making the cut. It was the second biggest difference between opening rounds in Masters history (the largest difference in a major since was achieved by McIlroy, who shot 63-80 at last year's British Open). Donald finished 47th at that Masters, preceding his extra-hole loss at the U.S. Open two months later.

Gary Player (65, 1965)Trying to break up the Jack Nicklaus/Arnold Palmer domination of the Masters, Player started with three birdies, and saved par from two difficult positions on the back nine. Player had recently stepped up his fitness regime to increase his ability to hit the Augusta par 5s in two, and his approach proved to be visionary. "Jack and Arnie kid me a lot about all my exercising and muscle building. Well, let me tell you they wouldn't if they got shrunk to 5 feet 7 and had to stand on the tee with me. Then we'd see who out hit who." But Player had the misfortune of catching Nicklaus on perhaps the hottest week of his career. In the end, he finished tied for second with Palmer, nine strokes behind the Golden Bear.

Rory McIlroy (65, 2011)McIlroy's bogey-free round is impressive because it is the only of the five accomplished on the Augusta National since it was drastically lengthened in 2003. At 21, McIlroy also became the youngest first round leader in Masters history, supplanting Seve Ballesteros. "I trusted everything," said the Northern Irishman.

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