Augusta National was extremely gettable during the opening round on Thursday. Overnight showers drenched the course and an early three-hour delay only made conditions softer. Coming into the event, players knew that the course would play differently than it normally does in April, but it’d be hard to believe they expected it to be this different.
Early in the day, balls plugged in their pitch marks on the greens. As the day progressed, balls were spinning like they do at a mid-summer Tour event, not a major championship. Although there was a mud ball or two, these soft conditions allowed players to fire at flagsticks without fear. Hardly the Augusta National we’re accustomed to seeing.
Paul Casey set the early lead with a seven-under 65 — a full 16 strokes better than his opening-round 81 last April. He (obviously) played much better this time around, but the conditions had a bit to do with it as well.
While many golfers will not finish their rounds this evening, there are already 12 players that have posted in the 60s during Round 1. For some perspective, the most rounds in the 60s during any Masters round is 20. We could well see that number surpassed as players finish their rounds tomorrow.
And while it’s easy to point to the rain-softened course as the sole reason for lower scores, Casey had another explanation — lingering Bermuda grass.
“It’s not just the softness of the greens,” he said. “There’s a little bit of Bermuda still in there. So, the Bermuda has a twofold effect. One, the greens are very receptive coming in … And obviously the putts are not as quick as well.”
Casey pointed to his 6-iron approach into a left hole location on the par-5 2nd. Today, he took dead aim at the flagstick and stopped the ball on the green for an eagle look. In April, that ball would likely bound over the green and leave him with a dicey pitch from the patrons.
“It’s not just the rain. It’s the Bermuda … I haven’t quite figured it out yet,” Casey continued. “Do we have to read a bit more grain than normal? It’s just different. Just a different challenge.”
He also mused that for players who are here for the first time — such as Jason Kokrak — they will be in for a rude awakening for how much different the course plays in April. In a year when nothing has been normal, it’s only fitting that Augusta National breaks the standard norms as well.
“It’s still very much the Masters and Augusta National,” Casey said. “But just a little different.”
Such is life in 2020.