Marginalized have their day in Augusta

It is far too early to call in the authorities and have the interlopers removed, but a little contingency planning wouldn’t hurt.

As we left the grounds Thursday with more rain moving in, Tiger Woods was five shots off the lead, Rory McIlroy was in survival mode and Phil Mickelson was smarting from only the second triple bogey in his long love affair with this tournament. The world’s No. 1-ranked player, Luke Donald, got involved in a minor scoring review that was found to be another human’s error, just to preserve a 1-over 73.

None of the stories that were so lovingly prepared for this tournament were cooperating on Day 1. Arnie, Jack and Gary — the three tenors who belt out the first three notes of a four-day opera — did their thing on No. 1 tee and then made way for a full day of totally unscripted golf.

It was left to Lee Westwood, a Best Player To Never Win A Major nominee, to lend the leaderboard some name recognition.

His 67 on Thursday was a primer on how to dissect Augusta National, the work of a craftsman who appeared very comfortable with his surroundings in this, his 13th Masters.

“Maybe a lucky number,” he said.

Westwood was seldom stressed, hitting 12 of 14 fairways and leading the field by hitting 16 of 18 greens in regulation. He required no putt of more than six feet to run off four consecutive birdies on holes 5-8. His 67 matches his lowest score at the Masters.

“Nice to get off to a good start and have a platform to build from,” he said.

Westwood’s quest to break through with his first major championship at the age of 38 represented an old, reliable theme to carry the day. Although, he wasn’t letting himself get too excited about another opportunity to rewrite his legacy at the Masters.

“I prefer people to remember me as the person I am rather than the golfer,” he said.

“Obviously if I sit down at the end of my career and there’s no major championship wins, I’ll be disappointed. If there’s five or six, I’ll be delighted.

“But you know at the end of the day, that won’t actually change much, will it? [More important] will be the impression I’ve had on people and whether I’ve gone away having done more good than bad.”

Just behind the at-peace Westwood on Thursday was a huge assortment of players who mostly would require help from the Army Corps of Engineers to move the needle.

One shot back at 68 was South African Louis Oosthuizen, whose prior Masters experience is three missed cuts in three appearances, with a scoring average of just more than 75. Joining him was Swede Peter Hanson, who also is looking to make his first cut here (after missing last year).

Six others are two back at 69, former Georgia long driver Bubba Watson attracting the most local interest. Otherwise, the group was about as colorless as the banks of spent azaleas on Amen Corner.

One other of their ilk dropped out on 18, when Henrik Stenson put together the most gory Swedish production since “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” He was right in it at 5 under through 17, and then quadruple-bogeyed his final hole.

But enough about them.

As for the drivers of ratings and the darlings of oddsmakers and every tournament preview:

Woods warmed up poorly and carried that through to the course, where he hit only six of 14 fairways.

“I could have maybe gotten one, two more [strokes] out of that, but that was about it,” he said. “I squeezed a lot out of that round. I really grinded. I stayed very much in the present. I know how to play this golf course; and I understood what I needed to do.”

Mickelson hit his tee shot so far left off No. 10 that it disappeared forever into the foliage. The result was a triple-bogey 7, only his second triple in 75 rounds since 1991. He finished at 2-over 74.

McIlroy got his ugliness out of the way early, when he double-bogeyed No. 1 and then spent the rest of the afternoon trying to apologize for it. He did well to sign for a 1-under 71.

In all, there glowed the embers of hope. Woods seemed content enough to not have shot himself out of it as poorly as he was striking the ball off the tee. Mickelson was 2 under on his last four holes. McIlroy had a birdie-birdie finish.

“Yeah, that was very important,” McIlroy said. “It’ll make dinner taste a lot better tonight. Yeah, I’m definitely happy coming off the course in red numbers.”

It will take more than a first-day free-for-all to keep golf’s one-percenters from believing they can’t still have their way.

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