AUGUSTA, Ga. — Given his anticipation, and the golf world’s anticipation, for the first major championship of the season, Dustin Johnson picked a bad time to have an off day.
Johnson shot a 5-over-par 77 Thursday in the opening round of the 78th Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club with five bogeys, a double bogey and two birdies He’s tied for 75th and nine shots behind leader Bill Haas.
“I just didn’t have it today,” Johnson said. “I just didn’t hit it that good.”
The Coastal Carolina alumnus, who has five top-six finishes in seven starts this season, including a win in the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in November, made the turn 2 over with bogeys on the par-4 fifth and ninth holes and fell to 3 over with a three-putt on the 10th.
He rallied by holing a 25-foot downhill putt from behind the par-3 12th green and followed it up with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 13th to claw back to 1 over.
But he bogeyed the 14th after having to pitch out of trees following a wayward drive and the 17th after missing the green from the fairway, and he doubled the par-5 15th. After pitching out of trees to the right of the 15th fairway, Johnson hit a wedge from a steep downslope into the water fronting the green. He took a drop 20 yards farther back from his third shot and hit an approach to 10 feet before burning the left lip with a bogey putt.
“I wanted a good full shot, kind of where I went back to after I hit it in the water,” Johnson said. “That’s where I was trying to leave it the first time it just went really far. Hitting a chip shot on the downslope is really tough to that flag and I just chunked it.”
Johnson struggled with green speeds Thursday, leaving many putts short beginning on the first two holes, where he left birdie putts of 20 and 10 feet shy of the hole. “I left a lot of putts short today, but it’s hard to putt aggressive because you don’t want to run them 6 feet by,” Johnson said. “You’re trying to die them in the hole and just left them short.”
Johnson hit balls on the range following his round and expects to see swing coach Butch Harmon in the morning before teeing off in the second round.
“I’m okay,” Johnson said. “The golf course is tough and it’s only going to get tougher. So I just need to go out and shoot a good solid score tomorrow and get it back to even par and go from there.”
Johnson’s threesome with Jason Day and Henrik Stenson tees off at 9:35 a.m. and will have its entire back nine streamed live on Masters.com as one of two featured groups Friday.
Not just a footnote
Kevin Stadler has ambitions of being more than just a novelty this week at Augusta National.
Stadler is playing in his first Masters via his win in the Waste Management Phoenix Open in early February, and is joining his father, Craig, the 1982 Masters champion, to comprise the first father-son duo to play the Masters in the same year.
Stadler’s 2-under 70 Thursday morning has him tied for fifth, so it’s obvious he’s not content with being the answer to a Masters trivia question.
Stadler had to scramble for a par on the first hole after hitting a nervous and short tee shot. “Once I got off the tee box there, it was back just into competitive mode,” Stadler said. “I kept it in play and hit a bunch of greens and kept away from the three-putts, so it was a good thing today.”
The Stadlers played at least one practice round together and you’d think Kevin would have picked the brain of and received sage advice from the 60-year-old Walrus, who is playing in his 38th Masters. You’d be wrong.
“Not a whole lot [of advice], to be honest,” the younger Stadler said. “I think he was really wanting me to find my own way around here. I suppose he’s not wanting me to over-think everything out here, telling me where and where not to go, just letting me figure out my own way.
“He was saying a few things, but really you can’t figure out the spots you don’t need to be in until you hit it there.” He apparently wasn’t in many of them Thursday.
Brandt Snedeker, who tied for third in the 2008 Masters after holding a final-round lead and tied for sixth at Augusta last year, managed a 70 despite calling a one-stroke penalty on himself when his ball moved on the 13th hole.
His second shot on the par-5 nestled between two bunkers in rough and the ball was well below his feet, and he said he saw the ball move after he took a practice swing. After calling the penalty on himself, Snedeker hit a deft chip to save par on the hole to avoid a third consecutive bogey that would have dropped him to even par.
“It rolled an inch or something like that and I had to replace it and take a shot penalty,” Snedeker said. “The only thing that could have moved it was me, so I knew it was me.”
Snedeker birdies holes 15 and 16 before a closing bogey on the 18th to sit two shots off the lead.
“That was just one of those things that happens once in a blue moon and obviously I did a great job getting that one up and down to not lose a shot there,” Snedeker said. “So I had some stuff happen today that probably wouldn’t happen on normal days, but that’s how it is.”
Only a dozen needed
Phil Mickelson always seems to be tinkering with the clubs he takes into The Masters, and it turns out there is a good explanation.
Mickelson famously used two drivers to win in 2006 and used two again in 2011, and he featured the Callaway Phrankenwood – something of a hybrid between a driver and 3-wood – last year.
He says there’s a method to his madness. Since some tees were redesigned and lengthened on six holes in 2006, Mickelson said he hasn’t had a shot between 90 and 130 yards during the Masters.
“So I have a 40-yard gap there,” Mickelson said. “I take out my sand wedge and gap wedge because I don’t ever need them and it allows me to put in two special clubs. That’s why I’m always working on something. I have two free clubs this week.”
Mickelson played with four wedges Thursday, including an added 64-degree lob and a gap wedge that was the final addition to his 14-club arsenal. “I never used it,” he said following a 76.
A new perspective
Johnson’s caddie and younger brother, Austin, is at The Masters for the fifth consecutive year. But this is his first year inside the ropes.
He has followed Johnson around the course in each of the four previous years he has played The Masters. “It’s pretty special just walking down the fairways,” Austin said. “I’ve been in awe all week with how beautiful it is. I love it.”
Johnson isn’t concerned with his brother losing focus because of the stage and surroundings. “I don’t care what he does,” Johnson said. “As long as he carries the bag and keeps up with me we’ll be alright.”
Austin has been impressed with the club’s treatment of caddies this week. “They do an excellent job with the caddies here. It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s a privilege. You get to wear the white jumper and I’m going to cherish every moment.” He hopes those moments continue through Sunday.
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