With mixture of excitement and tradition, Masters 2021 gets underway

Published: Apr. 8, 2021 at 9:08 AM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - After just a five-month wait, the 85th Masters Tournament has begun, with the first round underway today. Over the past three days, this year’s 88 Masters competitors have gotten a chance to get a feel for the course. That’s after some record-setting low scores at last year’s Masters, which was delayed until November.

What’s happened so far

  • Brooks Koepka never got clicking Thursday at Augusta National. He shot a 2-over 74, putting him squarely in the middle of the Masters pack.
  • Dustin Johnson finished his first round as defending Masters champion with a double bogey for a 2-over 74. And so end a record streak he owned at Augusta National.
  • Brian Harman went from last man in the Masters to the first name on the leaderboard Thursday. Harman is making only his third start in the Masters.
  • Si Woo Kim of South Korea, Corey Conners of Canada and Christiaan Bezuidenhout of South Africa were sharing the early lead Thursday at Augusta National, with all at 2 under in their opening rounds.
  • Viktor Hovland, the low amateur when he last played the Masters in 2019, opened with a triple-bogey 7 on the first hole. He sent his tee shot into the trees left of the fairway, then needed two shots from there to get onto the fairway.
  • Amateur Joe Long made a 7 on the par-4 fifth hole, and 1988 Masters winner Sandy Lyle had a quadruple-bogey 7 on the par-3 fourth hole. That matched the second-highest score in Masters history.
  • Lee Elder took part in the ceremonial start, joining six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus and three-time champion Gary Player. Elder’s health wouldn’t allow him to take a swing. Instead, he raised his driver on a cool morning that was warmed by enormous applause from spectators who lined both sides of the tee box.

What could be ahead

You could see it in the trees on Thursday. You could see it in the flags flapping, and you could see it in some of the scores.

The weather can definitely impact the golfers at the Masters.

And after three days of perfect weather, rain looks to be on the way.

Earlier this week, 2013 Masters Champion Adam Scott was asked if he’d like to see some rain slow things down.

“No, I don’t really,” he said. “I think it would be a shame if it did. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a really dry golf course, and I think it will be fun for everyone playing, but also watching, to see it play a little dry and see some shots and some strategy that maybe has been a few years, at least in my memory, since we’ve had to think this hard around here.”

One way or another, the weather certainly is a factor at the Masters almost every year.

What the players are saying

Last year, Abraham Ancer had a memorable debut at the Masters in November. He was among the leaders heading into the final round, but couldn’t keep pace and finished in a tie for 13th. Ancer says November still felt like the Masters, and he doesn’t think this one will be a “true first” in his second appearance.

“No, definitely feels the second,” he said. “I mean, obviously nice to have people out. We didn’t have anybody out here but the members. It feels nice to be on 12 and hit in front of people, and obviously you feel a little bit more of a pressure. but it’s nice. I like to feel that.”

Ancer added that he also prefers these course conditions to the ones in November.

Masters week 2021

Some rain over the next couple days could soften it up a little, but the sub-air systems at Augusta National shouldn’t have a problem drying it all up.

As competition is stronger than ever today for the start of the tournament, camaraderie is also shining through.

We’ve heard about a few course friendships, some of them formed over college ties. Bubba Watson, Harris English and local native Kevin Kisner all kicked off the practice rounds together, and Watson said he heard a number of “Go Dawgs” chants from patrons.

Kisner spent his time away from competitions at Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken.

He invited Viktor Hovland to play last week, and it’s possible we may have another tour-pro moving to our area.

“Viktor was talking about moving here for Palmetto,” Kisner said. “I said it’s not always in this condition. It is the member-guest this weekend. No, we had a great time. He made like nine birdies in 15 holes and beat my brains in on my home track.”

Returning players and former champions admit the course at Augusta National is looking tougher than it has in years, so don’t expect to see another 20 under par like we saw from Dustin Johnson last year.

But the players are actually looking forward to it, hoping that adds an extra challenge and makes it more exciting for everyone to watch, too.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve had a really dry golf course, and I think it will be fun for everyone playing, but also watching, to see it play a little dry and see some shots and some strategy that maybe has been a few years, at least in my memory, since we’ve had to think this hard around here,” Adam Scott said.

With just one day of practice on the course, world No. 3 Jon Rahm says he has no negative thoughts. He’s not worried about the course playing more difficult, either. He has peace of mind heading into the tournament, thanks to his first son who was born on Sunday.

“I’m not concerned. I went through a major life experience. If anything, I’m just happier. I’m thankful to be here. If anything, definitely a different mental state, but I would say it’s a better mental state,” he said.

Three golf legends mark a tradition

Before the players got to make those first strokes today, the 2021 Masters began with a tradition.

That’s with the trio of honorary starters who began play this morning by hitting the first tee at 7:45.

Among the three starters were Lee Elder, the first Black man to play in the Masters Tournament. He was joined by two of the sport’s biggest names, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

What the chairman said

Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley, speaking Wednesday, gave us a preview of what to expect during this year’s tournament.

He touched on some exciting new additions, like more aerial views to bring us a new perspectives of Amen Corner.

The chairman also brought up Georgia’s new voting law. He says the right to vote is fundamental and everyone should be able to exercise that right. But he also spoke out against calls for boycotts, saying they can hurt vulnerable populations.

And we’re now learning that protests against that law could be felt here in Augusta during Masters weekend with a protest near Augusta National.

Of course, one of the legends of the sport who won’t be here this year is Tiger Woods.

“Tiger Woods is one of the greatest competitors in the history of all sports, and he is and forever will be a part of the fabric of Augusta National and the Masters Tournament,” Ridley said.

Woods is still recovering from his car accident in February. Deputies released new information Wednesday into what led up to that crash in California, even as Tiger gave an update on social media: “I will continue to focus on my recovery and family, and thank everyone for the overwhelming support and encouragement I’ve received.”

How the mayor is marking Masters week

Augusta’s mayor is celebrating the start of the Masters Tournament virtually.

On Wednesday night, Mayor Hardie Davis Jr. along with Augusta Jam held the Eagle Gala virtual experience.

It was a free online version of the event normally known as the Mayors Masters Reception and Gala.

If you didn’t get the chance to join, there’s another virtual event happening this weekend.

The Hole-in-One Music Fest is happening this Saturday.

The event’s website says it brings a piece of the Masters to the community while also honoring local legends like James Brown and Jesse Norman.

It’s free, but you do need to register beforehand at https://mayorsexp.com.

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