|Korea’s Choi Kyung-ju acknowledges the crowd after putting on the 18th green at the Masters on Thursday. (AFP-Yonhap)|
With his green jacket upstairs in the locker room for Masters champions, Scott made only one bad swing that cost him two shots in a round of 3-under 69. It was the lowest opening score by a defending champion in 13 years, and it left Scott one shot behind leader Bill Haas on an otherwise demanding day.
“It was really how you hope to come out and play at any major, and especially the Masters,” Scott said. “And there’s no doubt winning the Masters last year had me a little more comfortable on the first tee than I’ve ever been in the past, because I didn’t have the legs shaking and nerves jangling for six or seven holes like usual.”
Haas, with a rich family history at Augusta that includes a green jacket for his great uncle Bob Goalby, settled down after an opening bogey with a collection of good birdie putts and an 8-iron to 5 feet for birdie on the 18th for a 68.
It was the first time in 18 majors that Haas has had the lead after any round. That only gets him a crystal vase for the low round of the day at the Masters. Haas knows better than to put too much stock into what happens Thursday. He was leading after the opening round in Houston last week and tied for 37th.
“There’s tons of golf left,” he said.
Only one first-round leader in the last 30 years has gone on to win the Masters.
Former Masters champion Bubba Watson, who slipped that green jacket on Scott last year, played his first bogey-free round in a major since the 2009 U.S. Open and shot a 69. So did Louis Oosthuizen, whom Watson beat in a playoff at Augusta.
They were the only players to break 70, the fewest for an opening round at the Masters since 2007.
“No one is really going crazy out there in perfect, perfect conditions,” Graeme McDowell said after fighting to salvage a 72.
But there was something about the way Scott played that grabbed most of the attention on such a gorgeous spring day in the South. Golf has been waiting for a star to take control all year, even more without Tiger Woods at Augusta for the first time in 20 years because of back surgery.
Scott was in control of his emotions and his game all day ― except for once.
Walking over to the heart of Amen Corner, the fans behind the 12th tee rose in unison to cheer the champ.
“The memory that will stick with me forever today was walking up to the 12th tee and everyone getting out of their seats as I approached there,” Scott said. “It was great, the level of respect that everyone has for this golf tournament and what happens here.
“But then,” he said with a smile, “I went and hit it in the water.”
Scott’s tee shot bounced off the front slope and into Rae’s Creek ― amazingly, he said it was his first shot into the water on that hole ― and he made double bogey to fall out of the outright lead. He picked up a birdie on the 14th, and three-putted for par on both the par 5s on the back nine.
Still, there were few complaints.
Augusta National officials knew this would be a gentle day of weather, and it was clear they made sure the course was anything but that. The hole locations were severe for an opening round.