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. This was a day when it paid to be long in the tooth.
The traditionalists can relax. For a day at least, the whiff of revolution in the air was replaced at the opening round of the 84th Masters by the one quality that usually trumps all others at Augusta National — experience.
Leading the way was 43-year-old Paul Casey, with a magnificent 65 that matched the best of the Englishman’s career at Augusta.
Not far behind was 47-year-old Lee Westwood, with a 68, and veteran American Webb Simpson, one of the shortest hitters but perhaps the wiliest, shot 67.
As for man of the moment Bryson DeChambeau, even he might laugh out loud at the fact his 70 was 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 before finishing with two successive birdies, the most eye-opening performance of the day came from 44-year-old defending champion Tiger Woods, who kept to the straight and narrow to show how it’s done once more.
Believe it or not, this was only the second time he has broken 70 in the opening round at the Masters. It was also his 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 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.
Since then, he’s been another working on his power. He’s always been one of the best and longest drivers in the game and now it’s an even more potent weapon with an extra 15 yards.
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 seven feet 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,’ said Casey. ‘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 clubhouse, the Masters committee must have been glad at that moment there were no patrons.
Not only is it difficult for 30,000 people to shelter in a storm, their footfall churns up the turf to turn verdant green to a muddy brown.
Mercifully, play began nearly three hours later. The skies were now 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 10th tees.
There’s probably only 25 yards between them, but a world of difference yesterday at just after 10.30am local time.
On the 10th tee, DeChambeau and a watching audience of about a third of the estimated 1,200 people allowed in. On the first, at the same time, was Westwood, watched by about half a dozen.
The Englishman began his first Masters for three years with a thumping drive just to the left of the cavernous fairway bunker. So began a beautifully played opening nine, full of the craft and guile typifying his performances here since he was runner-up to Phil Mickelson a decade ago.
In his last eight appearances, Westwood has notched five top-eight finishes and seven in the top 20. There has been scant evidence of any deterioration in his abilities this year, with six top-20 finishes in a row in Europe.
Westwood gratefully accepted the birdies on offer at the second and third and followed it with three more in a wonderfully played front nine of 31 shots.
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.
The first day might not have belonged to the young revolutionaries but at least they didn’t play themselves out of it. 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 said. Alongside him, Spaniard Jon Rahm carded a 69, while Patrick Reed and Xander Schauffele, two more fancied contenders, shot 68 and 67 respectively. It’s not those names, though, that will strike fear into the field. We couldn’t really be on the cusp of witnessing major No 16, could we?
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