Commentary

Campbell one of 38 to break par

Originally Published: April 9, 2009
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Hear that? It's noise -- lots of it -- and it's coming from an unlikely source: 2604 Washington Road ... otherwise known as Augusta National Golf Club.

The roars returned to the Masters on Thursday and not a nanosecond too soon. For once it was nice to listen to something other than whining and complaining from those who wrongly think this course and this tournament have been lobotomized.

Padraig Harrington said it was "probably as easy a day as I've ever seen at Augusta." Told of Harrington's comments, Jim Furyk said, "That will really make them mad."

"Them" is the Masters tournament committee, which sets up the course. But, no, it's not against roars, pumped fists, birdies or eagles. Really.

"The greens were nice, they were soft," said Harrington. "The pins were nice. The weather was nice. So it was a day you felt like you should score well."

And they did. Pine trees shook. Flagsticks rattled. Eardrums actually hurt. You looked at the first-round leaderboard and there was more red on it than at a Nebraska football game.

It seemed like everyone went low in the opening round, beginning with Chad Campbell, who owns the lead after leaving burn marks on the course.

The Texan shot a 7-under-par 65, including a Masters-record birdie-birdie-birdie-birdie-birdie start. He had four more consecutive birdies on the back nine, too, and came tantalizingly close to shooting 63, even 62, which would have been a majors first.

"I think everybody kind of knew the weather was going to be pretty good -- light winds, 10-mile-an-hour winds or so," said Campbell, who was at 9-under before bogeying the final two holes. "So when it's like that, you can definitely shoot some scores if you're playing well and making putts."

"It was a day to be had, I think," said Hunter Mahan.

Jim Furyk and Mahan shot 66s. Augusta native Larry Mize, the 50-year-old who stomped on Greg Norman's heart at the 1987 Masters, was one of two players who shot 67.

Mike Weir, who won here in 2003, led a cast of thousands who finished at 4-under. Norman, 54, part of a surprising old-timers' day, recorded a very respectable 70.

Augusta National was so friendly that I think Harry Connick Jr., who's doing those precious tournament TV haikus, broke par. Thirty-eight players shot sub-par first rounds -- the most ever here -- compared with nine in 2007 and 18 a year ago. And from 2002 to 2008 there have been only five 67s or better here. There were that many on Thursday.

If you're counting tempers, Tiger Woods finished in the red. He somehow shot 70, which puts him tied for 19th place and 5 shots behind Campbell. You could have boiled lobster on his forehead, especially after he missed makeable birdie putts on 16 and 17 and made a mess of 18 with a bogey.

"I was in position basically to shoot 4-, 5-under par," he said.

When asked what the deal was with his opening rounds here -- 70 is the best Woods has done -- he reminded the reporter, "That's how I won it four times, too."

That's not exactly right. Three times Woods has shot a first-round 70 and then gone on to win the tournament.

"We got a long way to go," he said.

This isn't unusual for Woods -- not the lobster thing, but the slow starts. He often plays the first round as though his shoelaces are tied together. A 70 this year, preceded by a 72 in 2008, a 73 in 2007, a 72 in 2006, a 74 in 2005, a 75 in 2004 and a 76 in 2003. You get the point.

Anyway, this was a day for scores to submerge. The weather was beyond perfect. The course said, "Hug me. Love me." Tees were moved up. Pin placements had smiley faces.

Tim Clark, who won the Par 3 Contest earlier in the week, was in the second group of the day. He shot 68, which was good enough to lead the tournament for, oh, about 11 minutes.

"I wouldn't think 4-under would hold up, to be honest," said Clark when he was done.

He was right, of course. Even with the greens firming up a bit in the afternoon, Augusta National was in a giving mood. Clark said it played "somewhat similar to what it did probably eight, 10 years ago."

Or seven. It was in 2002 that the course was lengthened to 7,270 yards. It was stretched even longer three years ago. The criticism arrived shortly thereafter.

The thrill was gone, they said. The patrons' mouths had been duct-taped shut. The course was supposedly too long and too hard.

A recent issue of Golf World magazine asked, "Where Are The Roars?" and then introduced a four-point plan to recharge the Masters.

Turns out Augusta National didn't need any plans; it just needed a week where the temperatures didn't plunge into the mid-40s and the winds didn't gust up to 33 mph (2007) or 30 mph (2008). In fact, Masters chairman Billy Payne had it right when he made this pre-tournament prediction:

"I think we are going to see some good scores shot this week, and we are going to see the course played as it was designed to be played when those [course] changes were made. I think we are going to be pleased with the results."

So far, so low.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

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