April 9, 2008

Thusday's Winners And Losers

Golf Digest's Matt Rudy analyzes first round Masters action and tells you who came out on top and who didn't

Winners

Justin Rose and Trevor Immelman

Rose has been here before -- he shot 67 to lead after the first round in 2004, and last year he was tied for the lead after one. His memories from 2004 aren't all that great -- he followed with an 81 and almost missed the cut, but last year he hung around all week and finished tied for fifth. This year, Rose snapped back from a shaky start to play holes 6-13 in six under, including four straight birdies on 6-9. He's an orderly, precise player, and his 68 was, too. The knock on him has always been how he responds when something goes wrong. We'll see tomorrow. Immelman's 68 was even more precise -- he shot the only bogey-free round of the day. The highlight was his exceptionally nervy lofted chip from the fringe on 17. He had to carry a lobe of rough, and catch the chip perfectly from a ridiculously tight lie. He rolled the shot up to three feet and saved par. Maybe he leard the shot from his idol, Gary Player, during the practice round they played Tuesday.

Brandt Snedeker and Lee Westwood

Speaking of idols, Snedeker was paired with his, Tom Watson, and the 2007 Rookie of the Year showed he belonged with a 69. Snedeker has the most charisma of anybody not named Tiger Woods, and his game is a reflection of that. He's a fast, energetic player, and he's fun to watch move around the course at a low boil. Westwood had an adventure coming in, bogeying 17 in the dark, but you have to respect somebody who made seven birdies under today's conditions. Good things happen when you hit 14 greens. Imagine what kind of round he could have shot had he had even an average putting day.

Zach Johnson

I'll be the first to admit I didn't give Johnson much of a shot to repeat. Winning the jacket last year was something akin to winning the Daytona 500 without a top gear. He played the perfect tournament, given his distance limitations. He's apparently not ready to lose the "defending" part of his title. Johnson used his same small-ball strategy to thnk his way around to a 70, two shots out of the lead -- a creditable performance with all the attention and attendant hoopla that comes with being the defender.

Butch Harmon

Not only did Harmon score Ernie Els as a new student, but Els announced it Masters week. Harmon now teaches two of the world's top three players. Of course, if the Big Easy goes out and shoots 82 tomorrow... One question: If both Els and Phil Mickelson need a tuneup tomorrow morning, who gets dibs?

Losers

Geoff Ogilvy

Ogilvy was the fashionable non-Tiger/Phil choice after a win and a tie for second the last two weeks. He's not totally out of it at 3-over, but he can see it from where he is.

Luke Donald Donald, another one of those small guys who mysteriously seems to thrive here, sat a shot out of the lead on the 16th tee. He promptly dunked his tee shot there, made double, then bogeyed 17 to end at 74.

Charles Howell III

Every year, Augusta natives Howell and Larry Mize compete to see who will need to scrounge up more badges for friends and family. This time, they combined to shoot 11-over. At least they'll be able to spend a lot of quality time analyzing the action on the weekend.

What to Watch For Tomorrow

We finally got to see what Augusta National played like with the added yardage and perfect conditions, and I'd call it a mixed success. The good? A variety of styles filled up the leaderboard after one round. Justin Rose, Trevor Immelman and Brian Bateman aren't anybody's idea of bombers. Lee Westwood (-3) is actually a fairly low-ball hitter. Brandt Snedeker is an aggressive player, who slammed all his birdie putts into the back of the cup. The bad? The board looks like it was transplanted from the U.S. Open. To win this tournament, you need to be much more of a cautious grinder than ever before. If that's what Augusta National wants to reward, fantastic. I give them full marks for calibrating the course exactly the way they intended. Now, does that make for compelling television?

So far, not so much.

Tiger Woods had exactly one exciting moment in 18 holes -- a jarred chip for eagle on 15 that brought him back to even par. He even said in his post-round interview that he felt like he had just played a U.S. Open round, and that there just aren't many birdies out there. It was almost 90 degrees today, which means the fairways will be baking out a bit more and the greens are only going to get firmer. The course won't play nearly as long as it did last year, when Zach Johnson basically won the tournament in winter conditions, but bouncy fairways will send the ball into the second cut, and players can't spin shots into those hard greens from fluffier lies.

If you're a star-gazer, you're satisfied today, because Woods (even), Mickelson (1-under) and Vijay Singh (even) are all lurking in a gigantic group just behind the first few leaders. Woods said he hit the ball much better than he scored, and he's happy with his position. He should be. He's at elbow's length from the top of the board, and only three of the 18 guys ahead of him have won majors in the last five years. Mickelson's day was more disconcerting -- he sprayed tee shots, missed greens and ironed chips 20 feet by. His 71 was more of a best-case, save-it-with-the-putter scenario. He dodged the bullet today, but it's much more difficult to live on a fantastic short game for a week that it was when Jose Maria Olazabal won here in 1999. There's just too much danger off the tee now. Singh is hitting it as well as he ever has, but it's tough to have a lot of confidence in a guy who's using the belly putter and a cross-handed grip.

Considering the trend in the course conditions, a 69 tomorrow would be a U.S. Open-caliber 69. If Immelman or Rose shoot 71, they'll almost certainly still be leading.