There is a chance before this week ends that the Masters will be what the Masters almost always is: The world’s best golf tournament, concluding with Sunday drama on a magical patch of landscaping below sun-kissed skies.
But right now, it kind of stinks. One round in, the Masters is like the fields of manure before Eden bloomed.
If this isn’t the worst backdrop and opening act to any Masters in history, it’s only because a 35-mph wind gusts didn’t blow in a swarm of locusts from the west.
Consider the chain of events in the past few days: 1) Tiger Woods, still a gallery magnet despite the state of his game and physical being, pulled out because of back pain; 2) Dustin Johnson, the world’s No. 1 ranked player and a fitness freak, slipped on the stairs of his Augusta rental home while wearing socks Wednesday, landed on his back and was left so bruised and battered that he was forced to withdraw Thursday just before his opening tee time; 3) Adverse weather conditions paralyzed some of the world’s best golfers, who as a general rule don’t need much reasons to complain when things get difficult outside of their protective country-club bubble.
Your first-round leader: Charley Hoffman, a 125-1 pick for degenerate gamblers.
No worries. It’s Thursday. There is plenty of time for a market correction before Sunday.
Former Georgia golfer Kevin Kisner provided some needed perspective. He initially expressed disappointment over Johnson’s injury, then said, “Life goes on. He’s got plenty of money.”
So cancel the GoFundMe account.
But Johnson’s absence did create a strange funk at Augusta National. There’s a rich history of storylines developing as this tournament unfolds but losing the losing world’s top-ranked player and a favorite to such a freakish injury the day before the first round kind of threw everybody for a loop. It’s the first time the world’s No. 1 player missed the Masters since Woods in 2014. Woods had back surgery, fell out of that spot and has spiraled ever since.
Johnson? If this tumble had happened Monday, he thinks he would have been able to play. But he chose to have one of life’s most embarrassing moments at about 3 p.m. Wednesday. He had nearly 24 hours of treatment and loaded up on anti-inflammatory drugs.
Physical therapists were summoned and planned to follow him around the course to … well, we’re not sure. But it would’ve made for great theater.
As far as anybody knows, there were no plans to also wheel an inversion table or electronic stim machine around Augusta’s sainted fairways.
I chose not to consult the “Rules of Golf” or the sport’s actual most powerful ruling body, the Couch Potato TV Police, to see if this would be allowed.
But at the end of it all, Johnson estimated he had only 80 percent range of motion, and he still was in significant pain. So he walked from the putting green near, past the first tee, where scheduled playing partners Bubba Watson and Jimmy Walker were starting their round, and continued straight toward the clubhouse.
The Masters lost arguably its fittest player because he couldn’t navigate three steps as he was rushing down stairs to move his car.
“Obviously, I want to play more than anything,” he told reporters as he stood near the big oak tree in front of the clubhouse. “It hurts. I was doing everything I could to try and play.”
Some players such as Adam Scott didn’t realize Johnson had withdrawn until they finished their round. “The way he’s been playing, he’s obviously very injured, because to pull out of the Masters when you’re in the kind of form must be a very difficult decision.”
“It just goes to show you how fragile our bodies are,” Canadian Adam Hadwin said. “One wrong move, one wrong swing, one wrong slip, and the next thing you know you’re not playing. It’s pretty unfortunate. He might be the best (athlete) here, but the back is nothing to be played with. We see it with Tiger, we see it with Jason (Day) a little bit and now we see with Dustin.”
Given how the round played out, Johnson might have struggled as much as almost everybody else. Other than the soft-bellied oddities of Charley Hoffman (7 under) and William McGirt (3 under), cold temps and strong wind gusts wrecked scores.
By the end of the round, only 11 of 93 players broke par. There were only 223 birdies to 407 bogeys, 34 double bogeys and 10 relative nuclear bogeys.
Fred Couples, who’s playing in his 32nd Masters, said, “I’ve never seen it like this.”
Ernie Els, playing in his 23rd, said, “Obviously, you will take a 72 in these conditions.”
Adam Scott suggested the win added a turbo boost to his three-foot putt in 14.
“It rolled 12 feet past the hole,” he said.
But his worst experience came on his second shot at the par-5 15th.
“I hit a 4-iron, and Kevin Kisner told me it went 15 yards backwards at the peak of its fight,” Scott said. “He was standing up ahead because he had already hit and he was watching the ball (looking straight up), and then he turned back toward me.”
The winds were so bad on No. 14, Kisner said, “I thought they might pull us off.
“You try hitting these small targets, and the wind’s going from 15 to 20 to 40.”
There is no guarantee Friday will unfold any better. But it can’t possibly be worse.
Listen: The AJC’s Jeff Schultz and Steve Hummer and WSB’s Jay Black discuss the first round of the Masters: