Leishman and Garcia lead them a merry dance
McIlroy’s putting lets him down as he stumbles to a level par 72
The tough questions can be answered from unexpected sources, as Marc Leishman – a journeyman tour professional from the Australian outback – and David Lynn, an Englishman pursuing a fresh golfing odyssey on the US Tour, proved with some aplomb in the opening round of the 77th edition of US Masters yesterday.
Throw Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson – men thwarted for one reason or another in their respective bids of a Major – into the mix, and you’re left with a potent cocktail of emotions. A year ago, the Spaniard was so distraught with his lot that he doubted in public his capacity to ever win a Major. Never say never!
Of course, the green jacket has never been handed out on the first day; but it’s a good time to put down a marker, to make a statement of intent. And, for sure, Leishman’s fashioning of an opening 66 to assume the first round lead was an impressive act of self-assuredness and of shot-making.
Leishman and Garcia claimed the clubhouse lead – with Johnson one shot behind with fellow American and veteran Fred Couples (through 17) on the five-under mark – and could look over their shoulders at a group on 68 that featured Lynn, Rickie Fowler, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Trevor Immelman.
Rory McIlroy carded five bogeys - four of those on the back nine - and five birdies, as his putting proved erratic once again. After turning on two under, the world number two shot a 38 on the way in and signed for a level par 72.
For some, there was pain and suffering. The plight of those who couldn’t cope with the majestic course was, unfortunately for him, epitomised by amateur Alan Dunbar: his sorry tale included being twice in the hazard on the par-five second in running up a triple-bogey eight there, and he had to wait until the ninth hole before he could manage a par, where he sank a 30-footer.
Pick up pieces
Others, too, struggled if not so badly. Bubba Watson, the defending champion, shot an opening 75 as he discovered that a year on – and the weight of being champion – can make a lot of difference, whilst Ian Poulter, who strode to the first tee full of confidence, was left to pick up the pieces after a 76.
Leishman’s conquering of the course was impressive. In playing nine holes of practice on Wednesday, he went on a streak of birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle from the 10th to the 13th which reaffirmed in his mind that he had a game suited to Augusta National. Doing it for real, though, was a different proposition and the 29-year-old Aussie – who achieved a breakthrough win on the US Tour last season when claiming the Travelers championship – spent years toiling on the Asian Tour, Australian circuit and the Web.com Tour before first winning his full tour card in 2009.
In his only previous appearance at the Masters, Leishman shot 72-79 and missed the cut. “I was a bit like a deer caught in the headlights,” he remarked of that debut. This time, more hardened and with a maiden tour win behind him, he came with different hopes and expectations. And, motoring along nicely, his round exploded with four straight birdies from the 11th, as he bounced back from a dropped shot on the 10th.
“I never really got ahead of myself, because I know that this course can bite you pretty quickly. If you miss it in the wrong spot, you can easily have a bogey, and then double (bogey) is pretty easy to come by . . . you’ve just got to miss it in the right spots, and I was able to do that,” said Leishman.
If Leishman’s golfing education has taken him on a tour of most parts of the globe, Englishman Lynn – who shot an opening 68 in his debut appearance in the Masters – has be reinvigorated since moving to the United States as he approaches his 40th birthday.
Lynn – who played for 13 straight seasons on the European Tour with modest success, his only win coming in the 2004 Dutch Open – earned a place here on the back of his stellar performance in last year's US PGA, where he finished a distant runner-up to McIlroy. That finish also earned him conditional status on the US Tour and he has embraced the move, a tied-fourth finish in the recent Honda Classic proving his wellbeing.
Lynn arranged practice rounds with Ian Woosnam and Sandy Lyle, so he could pick their brains. He played earlier in the week with Thomas Bjorn and watched; and he put what he saw into practice with an opening competitive round that again put him into the mix in a Major.
“It’s about playing the percentages. There’s a few times today where I played away from the flags. And again, talking to an old friend of mine, David Gilford, who came here for the first time, he shot a 67 the first round, exchanged a text message with him before I came out here. And he said: ‘Don’t be too intimidated by the greens. There are birdies out there. Try and be aggressive when you can be.’ So I had that in my mind as well, explained Lynn.
On the ninth hole, his caddie – Wayne Husselbury – turned to Lynn and said: “You’re leading the Masters.” Lynn, turned to his man, and replied: “I’d rather be leading it on Sunday afternoon.”
By day’s end, he had been usurped by Leishman and others. But the road to glory had moved beyond the starting point.