The Masters: Casey and Westwood prove experience pays at Augusta

Paul Casey and Lee Westwood prove experience pays at Augusta as golden oldies leave man of the moment Bryson DeChambeau in the shade on opening day of the Masters

  • Paul Casey produced an impressive round of 65 to lead the Masters at Augusta
  • It was an opening day which proved experience pays as Lee Westwood thrived 
  • Man of the moment Bryson DeChambeau looked like a long-driving freak show

Never mind long-hitting. A fascinating opening round at the 84th Masters was one where it paid to be long in the tooth.

Experience is invariably the quality that trumps all others at Augusta National and here it did so again over the man in the XL shirt. Traditionalists can relax and the green jackets can soothe their furrowed brows – for a day, at least.

Led by 43-year-old Paul Casey, who shot a magnificent 65, and 44-year-old Tiger Woods, who matched his lowest opening round at Augusta with a 68, the top eight on the leaderboard who completed their rounds on a storm-affected day included no fewer than five aged 35 or older, including 47 year old Lee Westwood, who shot 68. 

Lee Westwood (left) and current leader Paul Casey (right) used all their experience at Augusta

There was less cause for cheer on Bryson DeChambeau’s game as he struggled on Thursday

Tiger Woods is not leading but he produced the most eye-opening performance of the day

As for the man of the moment, Bryson DeChambeau hardly played himself out of it with a 70, and might even start day two with a little momentum after concluding with two successive birdies.

Even big Bryson, though, might have laughed out loud at seeing his score matched by 62 year old Augusta native Larry Mize, the winner over Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros way back in 1987.

While DeChambeau looked more like a long-driving freak show at times with hits both left and right, the most eye-opening performance came from Woods, who kept to the straight and narrow to show how it’s done once more.

Believe it or not, this was Tiger’s first bogey-free score in no fewer than 105 rounds in majors, stretching back to the 2009 USPGA. Swinging beautifully, 18 pure holes was all it took to go from being the forgotten defending champion to arguably the man to beat.

Casey appears to be improving with age. He gave the finest performance of his career in the majors at the USPGA in August, when he did little wrong in finishing runner-up to Collin Morikawa. 

Casey looks to be improving all the time and the Englishman put in a magnificent round 

This opening round was fully 16 shots better than his first round last year, when he suffered a rare failure at the major he thinks offers him his best opportunity. Casey built on a rare birdie at the 10th with more gains at the 15th and 16th. 

The highlight of the round came at the par five second, where his long iron approach ended up just 7ft from the hole to set up an eagle. Another birdie at the 6th gave him his lowest opening round at Augusta by four clear shots.

‘I was just so excited to get here and I’m thrilled with that round,’ he said. ‘Even without the patrons, there’s still an aura about this place. I put in a lot of hard work to be right for this event and it paid off today.’ 

As if it wasn’t painful enough having to wait 19 months for this edition, the opening morning dawned with leaden skies and the unpleasant sound of a hooter being blown just minutes after play commenced, signalling a suspension of play.

So began another wait, as the heavens dumped half an inch of rain on fairways already soft. In the confines of the Augusta clubhouse, the Masters committee must have been glad at that moment there were no patrons.  

DeChambeau was left navigating the bushes and he appeared a driving freak show at times

Not only is it difficult for 30,000 people to find shelter in a storm, their footfall churns up the sacred turf to turn verdant green to muddy brown.

Mercifully, play began nearly three hours later. The skies were the blessed colour of blue that is supposed to the predominant shade for the rest of the event.

When the place is full of patrons, you forget the close proximity of the first and tenth tees. There’s 25 yards between them, but a world of difference yesterday at just after 10-30am.

On the 10th tee, DeChambeau and a watching audience of about a third of the estimated 1200 people allowed on the property. On the first, at the same time, was Westwood, watched by about half a dozen.

DeChambeau’s opening round of 70 was matched by 62-year-old Augusta native Larry Mize

The Englishman began his first Masters for three years with a thumping drive to the left of the cavernous fairway bunker. 

So began a beautifully played opening nine, completed in 31 shots and full of the craft and guile typifying his performances here since he was runner-up to Phil Mickelson a decade ago. 

Perhaps not surprisingly it was all a little more prosaic on the back nine, but he got the luck he deserved at the 18th to escape with a par and get his campaign off to a fine start.

Experience might have been the overriding theme of the opening day but youth still had its fling. DeChambeau’s 70 was actually a good score given how he played. ‘I was fortunate, I didn’t execute the shots I normally do,’ he admitted.

Westwood had a small crowd tracking him in comparison to DeChambeau but he impressed

Alongside him, Spaniard Jon Rahm did his chances no harm with a 69, while Patrick Reed and Xander Schauffele, two more highly-fancied names going into the event, shot 68 and 67 respectively. Englishman Matt Wallace shot a fine 69.

Because of the delays, the afternoon wave were not able to complete their rounds, but Justin Thomas began with three straight birdies and was five under after ten holes when darkness fell.

Matt Wolff, the brilliant 21 year old American who became the first man in over a century to finish in the top four in his first two majors (fourth at the USPGA, runner-up at the US Open) is off to another flier in his third at four under after 11. As for Rory McIlroy, he’s off to another slow start at level par after nine.

It’s not any of those names, though, that will strike fear into the field, as Tiger continued from where he left off last year.

We couldn’t really be on the cusp of witnessing major No 16, could we?

Jon Rahm of Spain went beneath the radar but finished Thursday’s session with a 69 card


Share this article

Source: Read Full Article