AUGUSTA — Paul Casey admitted he caught a pretty lucky break Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club.
Casey, the 43-year-old Englishman still searching for his first major championship, was scheduled for a 7:44 a.m. tee time for the first round of the Masters Tournament.
He wasn’t looking forward to waking up to all of the rain in the morning forecast, much less playing in it.
Then the horn blew.
A nearly three-hour delay forced the first couple of groups – including Kevin Kisner’s – back inside after just a few shots, and Casey avoided the weather altogether.
He came back out and fired a bogey-free 65, matching his career low at Augusta National in his 14th Masters appearance, and leads by two following a rain-fractured Thursday that ended with 44 players still on the course.
“I felt like, to be honest, that was a very good break that I capitalized on because it was a glorious day for golf, really, after that,” said Casey, the 22nd-ranked player in the world. “… I got through Amen Corner unscathed, and picked one up on 13. And yeah, it was just very, very solid golf. … I did the right things when I needed to, and to be honest, you rarely walk off this golf course going, ‘It could have been two or three better.’ But it kind of felt that way. I don’t want to be greedy. I’m very, very happy with my 65.”
Webb Simpson, Xander Schauffele and Justin Thomas – who only squeezed in 10 holes before sunlight ran out – are all two back at 5 under. A big crowd of past champions – like Tiger Woods, Patrick Reed and Adam Scott – and those still hunting for their first major – like Lee Westwood and Hideki Matsuyama – are another shot behind at 4 under.
Casey was vocal earlier this year about not enjoying golf in a pandemic, and he said Thursday he’s not been able to draw much from playing tournament golf in these current, spectator-free times.
The lack of energy he’s felt elsewhere, though, doesn’t apply to Augusta National.
“The Masters, though, this week – it still has a buzz to it,” he said. “There’s an energy and a little bit of a vibe. Yes, it’s clearly a lot less than what we are used to, but there’s still something about this place that is still – I felt excited to be here.”
He created a buzz of his own, starting out right away with a birdie on No. 10 to open the round. He birdied the par-5 13th and 15th holes, then added another at 16 to turn in 4-under 32.
His approach into the par-5 second hole showed how players can attack a saturated Augusta National.
Casey hit a 6-iron 213 yards to a pin located just four paces off the left edge of the green. He landed it in a spot that, in April, would result in his ball bounding off the green and into the patrons.
In November, it stuck 5 feet from the pin. He made eagle there for the big highlight in his 65, a score 16 strokes lower than his first round last year.
Plenty of other players took advantage of the soft, receptive greens, taking dead aim at pins and putting more aggressively than they would at a regular Masters. Fifty players were under par at the end of the day.
Woods, the defending champion and five-time winner here, was one of them. He went bogey-free for the first time in his career in a first round at the Masters – and the first time he hasn’t made a bogey in his last 106 rounds at major championships.
“I got off to a fast start today, but I think everyone is. Everyone is going low out there today,” said Woods. “With these conditions, you have to. You have to be aggressive. There’s no reason why you can’t fire at a lot of the flags.”
Of course, this is still Augusta National, and the course can bite back when players get too greedy.
One of those was Bryson DeChambeau, a tournament co-favorite and talk of the golf world with his oversized swing. He got burned on 13, pumping his drive too far left and taking an early double bogey. Still, he fought back to make five birdies from there and is still very much in good shape at 2 under.
So is 62-year-old Augusta native Larry Mize, the 1987 champion who birdied holes 2-4 to put his nameplate on the big leaderboard.
“I did happen to see that. Wow, that’s kind of cool,” said Mize, who made six birdies for the day. “I’d like to be there more often. It’s always fun to see your name up on the leaderboard. I’m sorry I couldn’t keep it. But it was nice to come back and finish really well on the back nine. I played really solid coming in and really felt good.”
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson and No. 2 Jon Rahm lead the group at 3 under. Rahm was in DeChambeau’s group and completed 18 holes, but Johnson still has half of his round to play.
He, Thomas and dozens of others will be back out at 7:30 a.m. Friday to finish their first rounds. If there are no further delays, the second round will start at approximately 9:35 a.m.
Johnson and Rahm, top two players in the world, lead the group at 3 under. Rahm done, DJ thru 9.