The Masters: Westwood cuts through hype to deliver
What a day for Lee Westwood and Luke Donald. While one of England's great hopes shot a 67 to lead the first round of the Masters, the other was dragged into a disqualification controversy which was nothing to do with any error on his part. Fortunately, the mistake was entirely the Augusta officials and Donald lives to fight another Georgian day.
It was pure administrative farce. Because a "5" on his scorecard resembled a "3" when faxed between officials it seemed he had signed for a 73 and not a 75. He hadn't, although at three-over the world No 1 was far from content. Westwood, in contrast, was satisfaction personified, equalling his best score at Augusta. His previous five-under round at Augusta came two years ago, when only Phil Mickelson's magical powers denied him the green jacket. Is this the time for the world No 3, who has racked up six top threes in his last 14 majors? Well, Westwood has never led after the first round of a major before; so, at least he is a quarter of the way there.
Westwood is one clear of Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, and Sweden's Peter Hanson with Scotland's Paul Lawrie in a tie for third on three-under. Rory McIlroy is two further back, while another shot separates Tiger Woods. And Mickelson? He is two-over. On yesterday's evidence they will all have to affix a turbo to catch the man from Worksop. Certainly, he was the golfing heavyweight who stepped up straight away to justify all the pre-Masters hype.
Seven birdies, two bogeys and his usual metronomic display of long and accurate driving, solid approach play mixed with a hugely encouraging on and around the greens. "This is a golf course I love playing," said Westwood, with seven out of his last 10 rounds at Augusta coming under par. "It may be the best I've ever played in the first round of a major, but I did play well in 2010. It's a good start to build from."
As the 38-year-old noted, "this is a second-shot golf course". And because of his driving he happens to be rather accomplished at second shots. He didn't miss any of the rain-sodden fairways and hit 16 greens in regulation. The only mudball he caught was on the 10th which he bogeyed. All in all it was a mighty accomplished performance. "I'm excited," he said. "My experience and fitness will stand me in good stead on a demanding course."
McIlroy's afternoon was not anywhere near as solid, but he was more than happy with two birdies in the last two holes to shoot 71. The 22-year-old started with a double-bogey on the first but came back with five birdies to negate the further damage caused by two bogeys. Perhaps it would take a round for the young Ulsterman to clear his mind of last year's final-day 80 and don't be shocked if he goes low today. The same applies to Woods, so long as he repairs his radar.
The 14-time major winner walked on the side just to left of the wild, hitting "some of my worst golf swings ever". But when it came to waywardness even he had to bow to the final-hole calamity of Henrik Stenson. Already it is buried deep within Master folklore.
The Swede constructed a quadruple bogey eight without visiting water, without hitting it out of bounds, without taking a penalty, without even three-putting. Stenson was five-under at the time – after eagles on the second and the eighth – and, two clear at the top, was looking the likely leader in a first round when the course played as long as ever because of the storm. However, they call him the Iceman and the snowman which proceeded to drip ignominy all overs his scorecard was, indeed, chilling.
A drive into the trees, a chip out, a chunk, a pitch over the green, a poor chip to edge of the green, a putt to four feet, a miss from three feet, holed from three fest... punctuate by several slams into the ground in frustration. Simple for those of us who don't know how. "It's another day tomorrow," said Stenson. showing commendable courage to face the press.
What made it seem all the more cruel was Stenson's slump. From being No 4 in the world after winning the Players three years ago, the 36-year-old has fallen to 171st in the rankings. In this time he has lost a vast portion of his wealth in the Stanford scandal, who not only sponsored him, but also in whom he heavily invested. Pete Cowen, his English coach, is still adamant the vanishing of millions was a crucial factor in his client's downfall. Golf fans and anyone else with a heart can only pray that today truly does allow Stenson some credit.
Saying that, at the start of the round he would have taken beating Woods by a stroke. The former world No 1 showed his customary brilliance in the escapology department with two par saves after dramatic hooks into the trees on the first two holes. And when he pushed forward to stand at two-under with the two par fives of the 13th and 15th it was on the green-jacketed side of ominous. But the birdies never followed and then the bogeys did. Woods' two fives of the final two par fours represented a woeful finish which had been coming all day. Yes, the pines had been alive with the sound of Tiger's snap pulls – five in all – as he was honest enough to acknowledge.
"I hit some of the worst golf swings I've ever hit today," he said. "I just grinded my way around and stayed very patient. Unfortunately that was about as good as I got right there. I could have shot one, maybe two better, but I got a lot out of that round."
The reason for Woods's wildness, following his smooth display when winning his warm-up tournament, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, two weeks ago? "I had the Hank backswing and a whole new downswing," he said. "It was the same old motor issues." Hank is Hank Haney, the former coach who has recently published a controversial book – The Big Miss – about their time together. No, he is never far from Tiger's thoughts. And neither, it seems, is the big miss. "Every now and again, some old stuff from a few years ago pops and today it popped up," he said.
In contrast, Lawrie popped up with his first post-70 round at Augusta in his first appearance here in eight years, to stand alongside the likes of Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez and Francesco Molinari, with only Jason Dufner, Bubba Watson and Ben Crane representing America in the top nine. To think, the 1999 Open champion hadn't achieved an eagle in his 14 previous Masters rounds. Yesterday he managed two in three holes. That's Augusta, for you. Even the fax machine likes a drama.
Leaderboard: First-round leading scores
(US unless stated, par 72)
67 L Westwood (Eng)
68 L Oosthuizen (SA), P Hanson (Swe).
69 F Molinari (It), B Crane, J Dufner, M Jimenez (Sp), P Lawrie (Sco), B Watson.
70 VSingh (Fiji), J Furyk, Z Johnson, S Stallings
71 N Watney, R McIlroy S Stricker, H Matsuyama (Japan), R Fisher (Eng), P Cantlay, M Kuchar, S Cink, Kevin Chappell, K Bradley, A Baddeley (Aus), P Harrington (Irl), H Stenson (Swe).
Selected others: 72 T Woods, J Rose (Eng), I Poulter (Eng). 75 G McDowell (NIrl), L Donald. 76 P Casey (Eng).