It is customary for a player who hits a spectator to give a signed glove to the recipient of the painful encounter. In this case, frozen vegetables might have to do.
“He’s seen me sign plenty of stuff over the years, so I think that’s the least of his worries,” McIlroy said. “I think he just needs to go and put some ice on -- maybe I’ll autograph a bag of frozen peas for him.”
Koepka getting around
Brooks Koepka, three weeks removed from knee surgery, made it around Augusta National with an opening-round 2-over par 74.
Koepka insisted his leg was not the issue and that it was a matter of poor swings. He did admit to his leg being tired after the round. He also said he has been told playing so soon after surgery will not cause further damage.
“The problem is it’s just all the neurological stuff from your brain to there, firing different muscles,” Koepka said. “After surgery it takes some time, and it’s just -- the legs are just not strong enough.”
This can happen to the dew-chasers everywhere but Hudson Swafford could not help but look up early Thursday morning to find he was leading the Masters. Two birdies in the first four holes placed him atop the leaderboard, even if most of the field was still at breakfast.
“Yeah, I mean it’s right there, pretty big,” said Swafford, who was in the morning’s first twosome with Michael Thompson. “But being first off and it’s Thursday, I’m not really too worried about the leaderboard.”
He played the back nine in 39, leaving him 1 over with 73. But after his only other Masters experience (77-76, missed cut in 2017), the former University of Georgia player sounded eager to back out on the course Friday.
“I played awesome today,” Swofford said. “The score was not really indicative of how I played. I played some really good golf.”
Two-time champion Bernhard Langer continues not to show his age at the Masters.
The 63-year old shot an opening round 2-over 74. That was better than the likes of Daniel Berger (+3), Billy Horschel (+3), Phil Mickelson (+3), Matthew Wolff (+4), Sergio Garcia (+4), Rory McIlroy (+4), Bryson DeChambeau (+4) and Matt Kuchar (+6) to name a few.
“It’s great for me every year,” Langer said. “I just love coming here. It’s a wonderful golf course. It’s a fantastic tournament, so much tradition and history here, and I’m just so blessed to be a past champion and to be able to come back here every year.”
In November, Langer became the oldest player to make the cut at the Masters. He is playing in his 38th Masters and has missed the cut in only 10. He has been around for the weekend in four of the past five.
Count ‘em up, 1 through 9
Sungjae Im took a 9 on the par-5 15th. Just like that an even par round got ugly.
It all started innocently enough. Im’s drive traveled 318 yards in the fairway. His approach went over the green, leaving a knee-knocking pitch to the green. That’s when the trouble started. His chip landed on the green, rolled past the flag and caught the slope into the front pond. Three strokes plus a drop equals four.
Im elected to play from the fairway, taking a drop 63 yards out. His approach hit the green and rolled back into the pond. One plus another drop equals six.
Dropping again from the fairway, Im held the green and left himself an 18-foot putt. He came up just short and tapped in from two feet. Three more equals nine.
Im, who tied for second last year behind Dustin Johnson, finished the day 5-over par.
Augusta hits back
Augusta National showed its teeth on Thursday.
Or should we say its mean right hook.
Several golfers compared the tough play to getting in the ring with a heavyweight boxer.
Sergio Garcia, who shot 4-over: “I fought hard, but I don’t know, I feel like just came out of the ring with Evander Holyfield, like a 12-round match. I need to go home and rest.”
Gary Woodland, who shot 1-over: “I feel like I just got in the ring with Mike Tyson or somebody.”
Abraham Ancer was penalized two strokes after it was deemed he “unknowingly” touched the sand before making his third stroke from the greenside bunker at No. 15.
Ancer had signed his scorecard and exited the scoring area. Video evidence was reviewed by the Masters Competition Committee. It was determined that Rule 12.2b(1) was violated. It states that touching the sand in a bunker right behind the ball results in a penalty. The touching was deemed visible to the naked eye.
The penalty increased Ancer’s score to an 8 on the par-5 hole. He finished with a first-round 3-over 75.