During an era in golf when young players can find fairways and greens with little more than a flick of club, it was a quartet of old-timers who dominated Round One at the Masters. They showed that class is most certainly permanent, as they lit up the leaderboard on the first day at the Augusta National.
Bernard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Fred Couples, and Tom Watson all turned back the clock—or maybe a few calendars—to produce some stunning rounds of golf, and render the return of Tiger Woods to nothing more than a side show.
The German, Langer, took the early lead of the tournament after going out in 33, before Watson re-produced some of the heroics we saw at the Open Championship at Turnberry last year as he finished with a 67.
Couples, a three-time winner on the Champions Tour this year, stands alone at the top of the leaderboard at six under par after the first day, in a low scoring day at a blustery Georgia.
Predictably enough, the main focus was on the return of Woods. After a stirring reception on the first tee, he soon returned to his very best. A draw shot at the ninth hole was a particular highlight.
All the pre-tournament talk was about the comeback of the world's No. 1, but the day will be fondly remembered for the stunning display by these four veterans.
Lyle’s round of 69 included two birdies on 17 and 18 to cap a superb round for the 1988 champion, who looks set to make his 30th cut in a row at the Masters.
The man who’ll go into Day Two as the tournament leader, however, will be the 1992 champion, Couples, who was many people's outside pick for the tournament, after dominating the senior tour this year.
It was a good day for the Americans. Phil Mickelson, the big-hitting Anthony Kim, Nick Watney, Ricky Barnes, and David Toms are all in the pack chasing the leaders going into Day Two.
The Korean pair of KJ Choi, who partnered Woods, and Y.E Yang, the USPGA champion, carded rounds of 67, while Masters debutant Yuta Ikeda excelled with a 70.
As for the European challenge, Lee Westwood leads the way, joining a host of players at five under par. Apart from the impeccably turned out Ian Poulter back at four under, it was a disappointing day for some of the much-fancied Europeans.
Many onlookers will be wondering whether both Couples and Watson can keep up with the pace of their younger compatriots as the tournament progresses. The way Watson stayed with the pace until the final day at Turnberry last year will give both players hope.
As for the rest of the field, most of the focus will be on how Woods, returning after five months out of the media spotlight, slots back into his natural game with no struggle at all. Although he sits two shots off the lead, his form already looks ominous.
Woods is far from the headlines after the first day, but should we expect the same come Sunday?
Don’t count on it.
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