In opening first round proceedings for the 76th Masters, Gary Player made his debut as an honorary starter, joining the other two members of the ‘Big Three’, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, and the three-time Masters champion from South Africa took great delight in blasting his drive upwards of 250 yards down the first fairway. He may be 72, but the competitive spirit was rekindled behind Player’s broad smile.

Player’s shot was powerful, particularly as Augusta grows the fairway grain against the ball to reduce run, and overnight rain had left the ground soft too, so Player’s ball stopped right next to its pitch mark.

Player’s ball split the fairway in half, and sailed past 82-year-old Palmer’s shot, which was also perfectly placed in the middle of the fairway on the tick of 7:40am. Nicklaus teed off third, and the 72-year-old kept up standards by finding the middle ground between his old rivals’ shots. The three honorary starters have 13 Masters titles between them, and here they showed that class in indeed permanent.

Once the honorary starters had made way for the first competitive shots in Majors golf in 2012, Asian Amateur champion Hideki Matsuyama took little time to settle to his task. The 20-year-old from Japan teed off at 9:40 alongside Americans Tom Watson and Johnson Wagner, and his first four shots of the day were virtually perfect. After making the testing par-4 1st hole look straightforward when he holed out for birdie from just four feet, Matsuyama’s drive on the par-5 2nd also left him perfectly placed to attack the green in two. But then the sense of early achievement must have got into Matsuyama’s head, as he shanked his long-iron approach and the ball careered off to the right of the green, and the wrong side of a greenside bunker. The leading amateur in the 2011 Masters kept his nerve to chip over the bunker and save par.

Matsuyama was not the only golfer to find trouble on the par-5 2nd. It is a long walk at 575 yards, but as the fairway sweeps downhill with a gentle dogleg to the left, it is every inch a birdie opportunity with a well-placed drive. Four groups behind Matsuyama was Tiger Woods, playing with South Korea’s Sang Moon Bae and Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez, and Woods got stuck behind one of the few trees on the Augusta golf course to obstruct golfers with low-hanging branches. Probably golf’s best scrambler since Seve Ballesteros, Woods stung a low, hooking iron shot around the tree, with the ball finishing well placed in front of the green. Like Matsuyama before him, Woods saved par, and then a birdie three at the 3rd sent the former world number one into red numbers.

Most eyes at Augusta are watching if Tiger can stay in the red.

Article courtesy of Mercedes-Benz, International Partner of the Masters Tournament

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