On a day of red numbers and red flags, Jon Rahm got the worst out of the way early.
The world’s third-ranked golfer four-putted the first green at the Masters on Thursday for a double-bogey before playing the next 17 holes at nine under par.
That was good enough for a seven-under 65 and a share of the lead with Brooks Koepka and Viktor Hovland under foreboding skies at Augusta National.
“If you’re going to make a double or four-putt or anything, it might as well be the first hole, 71 holes to make it up,” said Rahm, who hit every fairway and 17 of 18 greens. “After that, it was more, I was focused on the fact that all the strokes were good. The reads were good. The roll was good.”
Cameron Young and Jason Day were two shots off the lead in one of the better opening-round scoring days in Masters history.
Cooler temperatures are in the forecast, as is rain, which would make potential comebacks even more difficult.
A dramatic comeback at the 2022 Masters saw Woods shock many by making the cut, but his physical struggles to navigate a hilly Augusta terrain were evident, compounded by surgery that had put a rod and pins in his right leg.
One year on, he closed his opening round hopping on his left leg after an awkward escape shot from a bunker at the 18th hole. Quizzed on the condition of his leg after his round, Woods was candid.
A sluggish start saw Woods open with three bogeys across his first seven holes, but the five-time Masters champion rallied with a birdie at the eighth.
Followed en masse throughout the day, the crowd almost erupted as Woods chipped a spectacular approach, only to be denied eagle by mere inches.
Rahm was the one who rose to the top in the first round, starting with an uncharacteristic four-putt on the first hole before rattling off seven birdies and an eagle on his way to 7-under. It felt like the Spaniard was coming into this tournament as the least hyped of this trio, and he quickly showed why he might be the favorite as the event turned to the second round.
McIlroy, meanwhile, had a roller-coaster opening round carding five birdies but balancing them out with three bogeys and a double bogey to finish at even par. While on a normal day that might be a disappointment, McIlroy’s opening rounds at Augusta National Golf Club haven’t been exactly stellar. In fact, his 72 on Thursday was his best opening round at the Masters since 2017. There’s still plenty of golf to play and while many in the field have to worry about the weather getting worse, McIlroy could thrive in it.
Super Bowl of golf
The Masters marks the biggest showdown yet between the established PGA Tour and brash challenger LIV.
While there were no outward signs of hostility during the practice rounds and champions dinner, the rivalry between those players who stuck with the PGA and those who chose the generational wealth doled out by LIV’s Saudi backers is unavoidable.
All eyes will be on the scoreboard to see how LIV’s 18 entrants are faring against the rest of the field.
If one of them claimed the green jacket, it would undoubtedly draw comparisons to the New York Jets beating the Baltimore Colts in the third Super Bowl — an astounding result that put the neophyte American Football League on equal footing with the NFL.
Golf is an individual game, of course, but so many harsh words have been exchanged over the past year that it’s impossible to ignore the significance of the Masters to both tours.
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