In his 23 career rounds at the Masters, Dustin Johnson has played Augusta National Golf Club’s four par-5s 38-under par.
That includes a 2-over total Thursday that played a significant role in keeping Johnson off the leaderboard in the opening round of the 80th Masters.
The Coastal Carolina alumnus was unable to take advantage of his length off the tee on the holes despite hitting the fairway on three of the four and reaching the green in two shots on the other one, and is tied for 34th at 1-over 73.
“I felt like I played pretty well I just played the par-5s terrible,” Johnson said. “Other than that, it would have been a pretty solid round if I play those 2 under, which is not asking too much considering I was in fairway on every one of them. I definitely have to play the par-5s a little bit better [Friday].”
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Johnson made five birdies and his putter got hot late on the front nine, when he made three birdies in four holes to reach 2 under at the turn.
He rolled in an 18-foot downhill birdie putt on the par-3 sixth hole, a 35-foot downhill putt from the fringe on the par-4 seventh, and a 25-footer on the par-4 ninth.
“I feel like I’m rolling it pretty well, so I’m pleased with the putter,” Johnson said. “I’m pleased with pretty much everything, just not the way I played the par-5s.”
He bogeyed the par-5 second hole after having an awkward lie above his feet in a greenside bunker, then hit a 3-wood over the green on the uphill 570-yard eighth before chipping 30 feet past the hole and settling for par.
“I hit two great shots on 8,” Johnson said. “I didn’t want to go over, that was the only place I didn’t want to hit it, and I didn’t think there was any chance I could hit it over the green. When I hit it I thought I hit it right in the middle of the green, a perfect shot.”
He reached the 13th green in two but three-putted from 46 feet to make par, leaving his first left-breaking putt 14 feet below the hole. He said he slightly mishit a 3-iron while going for the green in two shots on the 15th hole and found the water fronting the green, then was unable to get up and down and made bogey.
Johnson made just three pars on the back nine. He three-putted from 47 feet on the 10th hole to make bogey, then made double bogey on the 11th when he hooked his drive into the woods and hit a tree on his first pitch out attempt.
He holed a 22-foot birdie putt on the 14th that turned slightly to the right, and after making bogey on 15, he hit his tee shot to 6 feet for birdie on the 170-yard par-3 16th and bogeyed the 18th following a drive into the right trees that resulted in a stick resting on his ball.
“I feel my swing is pretty good,” Johnson said. “I feel good with the golf game. I’ve got a lot of confidence in it.”
Births for berths
The stork arrived early for both Kevin Streelman and Danny Willett, allowing both to participate in the Masters without fret.
Their wives were expecting children with due dates on Masters weekend. But the children were delivered early, freeing up both players to compete this week. Willett’s third son was due Sunday, but Zachariah James arrived 12 days early. Streelman’s wife Courtney was due to give birth to the couple’s second child Saturday, but Rhett Davis arrived in late March.
They played Thursday like they need money for diapers. Willett is tied for 10th after a 2-under 70 and Streelman birdied the 16th and 18th holes to move into a tie for 13th at 71.
“At home, golf wasn't quite the No. 1 priority, but I was fortunate to get out to Houston last week,” said Streelman, who missed his third consecutive cut in last week’s Shell Houston Open. “Though I didn't play great, I just did a lot of good practice knowing I was prepping for this week and I did some great work here Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.”
Streelman was a student of Barefoot Resort instructor Alasdair Dyer for approximately 3 1/2 years through May 2011, and now works with friend Jake Thurm, who was a common student of Streelman’s first instructor Dr. Jim Suttie.
Streelman was grateful that his son was just 3 1/2 weeks early considering his daughter was six weeks early – the preterm births impacted by his liver pregnancy condition called cholestasis. “When we looked at the date we first kind of laughed . . . but we knew it would be an early pregnancy. So it all worked out great,” Streelman said. “He came out super healthy and is doing well and Courtney’s doing well. I miss them, but they’re at home.”
Els ailing on greens
Ernie Els is a four-time major champion, but his recent struggles with the putter are threatening to derail his career.
Els’ was out of contention Thursday after just one hole, which he six-putted from 3 feet to make a 9.
Putting cross-handed, Els missed a 3-foot putt for par, then casually walked up to his next two putts as formality tap-ins but rolled them both over the edge of the hole.
He stepped back to gather himself for the fourth putt but missed that as well, attempted a one-handed tap-in from a mere inches that lipped out, then tapped in with one hand on his sixth putt.
His 9 is the highest score ever recorded on Augusta National’s 445-yard par-4 named Tea Olive, surpassing the 8s that four previous players had made between 1998 and 2007.
Els, who alternated between a belly putter and regulation-length putter before anchoring was banned this year, has previously had other cringe-worthy issues on the greens in recent months, missing badly from short range on multiple occasions.
Following the putting debacle Thursday, he reached the par-5 second hole in two shots but three-putted from 25 feet, missing a 3-footer for birdie. He missed several other short putts during the round, including a 2-footer on 18, and finished the round with an 80.
To his credit, Els spoke about the having the yips after his round. “I couldn't get the putter back. I was standing there, I've got a 3-footer, I've made thousands of 3-footers and I just couldn't take it back. … I'm hitting the ball half decent and I can't make it from 2 feet.
“I don't know how I stayed out there. But you love the game and you got to have respect for the tournament and so forth, but it's unexplainable. It's very tough to tell you what goes through your mind. It's the last thing that you want to do is do that on a golf course at this level.”
Els, 46, a 2011 inductee into the World Golf Hall of Fame and one of the more popular players among his peers on tour, appears concerned about the remainder of his career.
“It's very difficult. I'm not sure where I'm going from here. So, I don't know. We'll see,” he said. “… A lot of people have stopped playing the game, you know. It's unexplainable.”
Though he didn’t putt particularly well Thursday with 31 attempts in a round of 76, 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott has transitioned just fine from using a long putter for about five years.
Scott is ninth on the PGA Tour this year in putts per green in regulation with 1.713 while using a traditional-length putter since the ban on anchoring, contributing to a pair of consecutive wins and a large lead in PGA Tour 2015-16 FedExCup points.
“I guess it's been a little bit of a process, but I would say I'm fully through that transition period,” Scott said. “The way I feel is no different than when I was with the longer putter. The routines and the practice and everything, the drills, they are all the same. It just has a shorter shaft. It might sound simple, but that's how I'm trying to keep it.
“… It seemed like everyone forgot I putted with a short putter for the first 10 years of my career and that I would be unable to do so as I went back to a short putter.”
Eighty for 80
Rickie Fowler didn’t intend to commemorate the 80th Masters with an 80 in the opening round, but as he acknowledged on Twitter, that’s exactly what he did.
The reigning Players champion was actually 1-under through six holes and still just 1-over through 12. But a triple-bogey 8 on the 13th – where he pitched out following wayward drive, hit his third shot into the water then chipped over the green – and a double on the par-3 16th after a tee shot into the water, led to the 8-over total.
“I made a couple mistakes on the back and got a couple bad breaks. But it’s golf,” Fowler said. “Golf's tough. It is a fine line, especially at this place. … It can go either way and it can definitely go the other way, the high number way, a lot easier than it can the low.”
Fowler was one of five players to shoot 80 Thursday, and four players shot higher rounds.