Rookies beware, Augusta not easily mastered

ROB CARR / GETTY IMAGES Masters rookie Jimmy Walker keeps eye on tee shot on fourth hole in yesterday's first round.
ROB CARR / GETTY IMAGES Masters rookie Jimmy Walker keeps eye on tee shot on fourth hole in yesterday's first round.
Posted: April 11, 2014

A GAGGLE OF rookies peppered the leader board at the 78th Masters.

No rookie has won in 35 years. Only one rookie, really, has ever won.

How did they do it?

Was it talent? Courage? Nerves of alloyed steel?

"Maybe it's no bad memories," said Stephen Gallacher, 1-under thanks to a brilliant sand save on No. 18. "No scar tissue."

There should be plenty of wounding today.

Perfect temperatures, light winds and receptive greens helped five of the record 24 Masters rookies post under-par scores, which put them in the top 12. There are 18 non-amateur rookies, and 15 of them finished among the top 53.

Fuzzy Zoeller, who won as a rookie in 1979, might have some company come Sunday, but the surging first-timers shouldn't get too comfortable.

It will be slightly warmer and noticeably windier today. The greens, still soft from drenching rains Monday, hardened by the end of yesterday's round. The wind blew more as the day progressed.

Expect carnage.

"It's going to be really hard to go out and play tomorrow," said Masters hero Fred Couples, "because it's drying up pretty quickly."

Kevin Stadler, Jonas Blixt and Jimmy Walker played in more placid conditions early, and all finished at 2-under. Gallacher started a bit later, as did Jordan Spieth, also 1-under.

Harris English, in the last group, scrambled around at 2-over. Between his nerves and the more challenging conditions, he was happy to be within six shots of leader Bill Haas. English, who attended the University of Georgia, probably knows the course better than any rookie.

"I've played here 10, 11 times, but I never played it like this," English said. "My nerves . . . I was a little bit out of sync. A little fast. When the gun goes off here, it's all about experience."

When the course played soft and slow in practice Tuesday and Wednesday, some of the rookies dismissed the National's reputation for flummoxing first-timers. They finished yesterday's round with a newborn respect.

"Night and day," said Blixt, who birdied five times on the front nine and six times in total.

Walker birdied four times in a row, from No. 14 to No. 17, and left the course coolly calm: "Guys know how to play golf, and it's a matter of going out and doing your homework and knowing where to hit and not where to hit it."

Perhaps Walker, ranked 26th on Tour in par-5 scoring, should review his par-5s performance: one birdie, two pars and a two-tree bogey on No. 13.

Stadler was brilliant on and around the greens, modest and humbled afterward.

"The greens were holding just enough. And I made a couple of putts I probably shouldn't have," he admitted.

Asked if he felt like a rookie given his familiarity with the grounds (his father, Craig, won in 1982, so the family visited every year), Kevin replied, "Absolutely. I hit it in a lot of spots I shouldn't have been. Number 17 was one of them."

He came into the 17th hole at 2-under, but he over-clubbed and pulled his approach shot 70 feet left of the front-right pin. He two-putted for par, and, afterward, was sure that his finishing score would not hold:

"I'm sure another rookie will shoot lower than that," he said.

He was wrong . . . but not by much. Generally, the safer they played, the better the result.

Spieth, 20, is the top-ranked rookie in the field at 13th in the world. He played alongside Rory McIlroy, in his sixth Masters at 24, and still learning. Spieth mainly played conservatively and was at 2-under through 13 holes. He bogeyed No. 14; cowed, put his guns away.

"You have to dial it down here, no doubt about it. You can't be aggressive," he said. "You can see certain spots where Rory hit shots that looked like they were off line, but in fact they were right where they needed to be versus maybe going more towards the pin."

Patrick Reed sat at 2-under late, too, all the way through 15 holes, but he couldn't control his driver, his irons or his emotions. He bogeyed Nos. 16, 17 and 18.

Reed minimized Augusta's ferocity Tuesday, and yesterday he stormed away from a cluster of press after the round. He later was cornered in the clubhouse, tired and frustrated.

"Everything was thin," he said. "Or unsolid. Drivers off the heel, or off the toe. I kept leaving shots on the wrong side of the hole. I misjudged the wind on two holes, early."

Gallacher's precise iron play and his ability to digest wisdom served the Scotsman well. He said that Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jose Marie Olazabal, legendary European players, stressed to him, "You don't shoot at pins. You play for position around here. I did that."

Reed's rookie lesson:

"Bury everything under the hole."

Otherwise, the National will bury you.


On Twitter: @inkstainedretch

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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