Lynch: While Bryson, DJ and Rory left sour, the bookies were happy on Thursday
As the color of Augusta National’s greens seemed to fade with each passing hour, so too did many of the favorites in whom fans have invested dreams and dollars, a rankling reminder that this game in general — and this golf course in particular — has a way of making sure things seem, well, something less than sure.
Thus a man whose swing speed suggests he believes his body is invincible finds himself 11 strokes adrift one whose back is so balky he hasn’t played for a month.
Bryson DeChambeau’s approach to golf can sometimes seem like tilting at windmills, a bootless effort to eliminate the vagaries of chance that are the essence of the sport. He frequently looked flummoxed during his opening round 76, gaping in disbelief as the approach shot yardages he plotted with the same diligence that ancient mariners once studied the stars repeatedly airmailed his targets. Then, when called upon to putt from the fringe, DeChambeau displayed a touch more suited to home demo than winning a green jacket.
After his round, he retreated to the practice area to resolve some lingering questions, not least whether his 76 is 4-over (per the Masters scorecard par) or 9-over (per his self-declared par last November). But DeChambeau was hardly alone in feeling bruised after a day that eroded the confidence of the world’s best.
The pre-tournament betting favorite, Dustin Johnson, ambled to the same score (74) that his former friend Brooks Koepka hobbled to on one knee, just 23 days removed from surgery for a dislocation and ligament damage.
“It’s tired right now, I’m not going to lie,” Koepka said of his knee. “But I’ve just got to play better.”
That was a sentiment likely shared by a few players who weren’t recently at the business end of a surgeon’s scalpel.
The lower reaches of a Masters first-round leaderboard is typically peopled with wide-hipped old champions and wide-eyed young amateurs. Today was no different, as (A)’s Strafaci and Long kept company with legends like Mize, Lyle, Couples and Singh. But they weren’t far behind some superstars who were mauled by Augusta National.
Patrick Cantlay, for example, staggered to a 79 that left the world No. 10 three shots behind 63-year-old Ian Woosnam, four adrift of 55-year-old Jose Maria Olazabal and a handful off the pace of 63-year-old Bernhard Langer. It’s a humbling old game.
Finding oneself tied with Woosnam hasn’t been a good spot for anyone at the Masters for a quarter-century, so the wee Welshman surely felt better Thursday than did his gilded leaderboard company, which included DeChambeau, Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Matt Wolff and the recent WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play winner Billy Horschel. McIlroy endured one of those days when the only impression he made was on his dad’s leg, Gerry’s flank having borne the impact of his son’s wayward iron shot on the seventh hole.
But this is Augusta National, and both conditions and nerves will be such over the remaining three days that even Woosie’s cohort (though not Woosie himself) can be firmly discounted. Those who struggled today will look at the lead as the 3-under score posted by Brian Harman and Hideki Matsuyama rather than the imperious 7-under of Justin Rose. Odds are the likable Englishman will stall or work backward rather than further distancing himself.
A handful of favorites are still lurking close enough to discomfit the bookies, none more so than Jordan Spieth. He took a customarily scenic route to a 71, at times finding himself in spots usually seen only by those heeding the call of nature but galvanized his dreamers in the gloaming with chip-in eagle on 15. His caddie, Michael Greller, told CBS’s Dottie Pepper that shot — which was otherwise bound for a watery ending — “saved us three, maybe four.”
On the back of such breaks are jackets donned.
Jon Rahm (72), Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa (73s) will also still be eyed warily by every book in Las Vegas, outfits sufficiently informed and cynical to understand that a 4-stroke lead only matters when the sun sets on Sunday. Thursday is not a day when dreams are made at the Masters, except for journeymen who enjoy a banner score but know they can’t sustain it. But it is often a day when dreams are, if not crushed, at least badly bruised. It was thus for many who had reason to hope for a Sunday celebration.
Every day at Augusta National makes someone happy. Today it was the turn of the bookies.