To start, Masters doesn't disappoint
AUGUSTA, Ga.-- The first day of the Masters was minding its own business when suddenly it became Turn 3 at Talladega. Storylines were trading paint. Controversy spun out of control. It was madness.
And can we do it all over again Friday?
For bookkeeping purposes, Lee Westwood is your first-round leader after shooting a 5-under-par 67 on Thursday. He did it on a day when the predicted thunderstorms never arrived at Augusta National, but the nuttiness did.
Westwood is the No. 3-ranked player in the world. His sense of humor is drier than cotton mouth and I'd pay money to attend his news conferences. But he has never won a major.[+] EnlargeAndrew Redington/Getty ImagesFrom the "we've never seen that before" file: Phil Mickelson showed up at the ceremonial tee shot Thursday morning with Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Lefty simply said he had always wanted to see that up close.
He has come close. A lot. A Masters second-place finish. A second place and T-3 at the Open Championship. A third place and T-3 at the U.S. Open. A T-3 at the PGA Championship.
Now Westwood has his first-ever 18-hole lead at a major. But can he keep it?
"Just trying to cruise my way into the tournament today and get in a good position and then hopefully stay there," he said.
It's a cool story, but it will have to stand in line after a Thursday round of craziness. Compared with everything else that happened in the land of pimento cheese sandwiches, Westwood's 67 was Yawnsville.
Look at the top nine of this Masters leaderboard:
There's six international players, two Golf Boys and one guy from Auburn who's going to marry a Bama girl. And I haven't even mentioned the Big Three yet -- Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy -- or the guy who put up a Big 8 on his scorecard.
Anyway, we've got Westwood (England), who's 1 stroke ahead of former Open Championship winner Louis Oosthuizen (South Africa) and Peter Hanson (Sweden). Then another British Open champion, Paul Lawrie (Scotland), Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spain) and Francesco Molinari (Italy) join video sensations Ben Crane (USA) and Bubba Watson (Mars), as well as Jason Dufner (War Eagle) at 3 under.
I watched the ponytailed Jimenez, otherwise known as "The Mechanic," on the driving range and putting green Thursday morning. He had a cigar in his mouth the size of a flashlight. Jimenez remains the No. 1 argument against golfers as athletes, but he's just goofy enough to make a run.
The last time anyone saw the 43-year-old Lawrie, he was finishing T-60 at Doral. This is his sixth Masters and he has three missed cuts. So nobody was exactly alerting a tailor to measure him for a green jacket.
Crane and Watson were part of the four-man "Golf Boys" video that set humankind back decades. Watson is a gas to watch, but he's never done much here. He did Thursday.
And Dufner, who played in his only other Masters in 2010, is a proponent of War Eagle/Roll Tide marriages. Some in the SEC might find that unsettling.
These are the men trying to each win their first green jacket. But it's early.
McIlroy lurks at 1 under. Tiger is at even par (though he drove the ball like he was 7 over). Mickelson is at 2 over. Any of them can still end the weekend smooching a trophy.
But when's the last time Woods, who said he struggled in his pre-round warm-up, had to take two unplayable lies in a round? It happened Thursday.
"Today I squeezed a lot out of that round," said Woods. "Didn't hit it very good at all."
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When's the last time as many as a hundred people couldn't find a Phil tee shot? It happened Thursday, as patrons scoured the pine needles and bushes like prison hound dogs in search of Mickelson's drive on No. 10. They never found it.
Didn't matter. Lefty put on the happy face for Day 2.
"And with a hot round [Friday], I'll get right back in it for the weekend," said Mickelson. "I know that heading in I've been playing well."
And speaking of No. 10, McIlroy's first drive there in competition since last year's meltdown was a directional breakthrough. In 2011: wayyyy left to Peek Cabin. In 2012: sort of right and into the first cut or so.
"I was definitely erring more on the right-hand side," said McIlroy, who parred the hole instead of tripling it like he did a year ago.
There was more fun. Patrick Cantlay, a UCLA sophomore and the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, is tied for 14th at 1 under. Randy Lewis, a 54-year-old amateur, shot 9 over par and said, "That's my all-time favorite 81."
And did I mention that for a couple of hours or so, Luke Donald's scorecard was under review by committee officials? In the end, the controversy was the result of "administrative error." Or that Henrik Stenson led the tournament until he left the 18th hole with a quad-8 -- without a penalty stroke or lost ball?
"You make a little mistake and then you compound it with another one, and it just keeps on snowballing," said Stenson. "And I got a snowman in the end. You know, what to do."
And what to do about this little newsmaker? A New York Times reporter said she'd boycott future Masters until Augusta National's membership includes a woman. Plus, President Obama and presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced they favored the admittance of women into the club.
The first round of this tournament had everything but dullness. So the bar has been set, Friday. Don't disappoint us.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.
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