If you're a fan of golf, there's nothing better than the opening day of the Masters.
Even if you're not a die-hard fan of the sport, the comedown from the NCAA tournament should be enough to force you to check out the 2013 tournament at Augusta National, filled with legends of tournaments past and guys looking to wear the green jacket for the first time.
In the 77th annual Masters, Marc Leishman and Sergio Garcia took home Round 1 honors when every golfer was safely in the clubhouse on Thursday evening. Dustin Johnson, Fred Couples and Matt Kuchar headline a list of others right on their heels, as the leaderboard is finished shifting before Friday morning's opening tee time.
One of the biggest stories from the opening round was 14-year-old Tianlang Guan, a young man who is the youngest participant ever at Augusta. Despite some troubles with a few of the holes, Guan surprised us all by posting a one-over 73, putting him above the projected cut if he can duplicate that performance on Friday.
The Masters is, and always will be, about golfers rising to the occasion. That includes both big names and those we haven't heard of, but here's your chance to catch up on Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and a few of golf's other big names and some observations from their first round at Augusta on Thursday.
First-Round Analysis for Top Golfers
Tiger Woods (-2, t-13)
Woods came in with the lowest odds to win the 2013 Masters (7/2, courtesy of Bovada), and he played like a champion for most of the afternoon.
Tiger cut his strokes for the first time on No. 6, when he hit a masterful tee-shot on the par-three Juniper. After birdieing that hole, Tiger proceeded to attack the next two par-fives (No. 8 and No. 13) with the same vigor he has in previous tournaments.
Woods has been known for his ability to get under the Mendoza line on the longest holes of the course. Paul Pabst noted that fact before the tournament, and Tiger pushed his impressive total to 128-under for his Masters career:
Tiger at the Masters as a pro...career on par 3's +24...par 4's +12...par 5's -126— Paul Pabst (@PaulPabst) April 10, 2013
The world's No. 1 golfer then faltered a little bit down the stretch, bogeying No. 14 and failing to connect on putts (most notably No. 15) that would have pushed his total lower than two-under—which will be the mark he looks to improve on when play begins on Friday.
Just four strokes off the pace, Woods is in position to do what he does best—capture the lead in the second or third round and protect his 14-1 mark when having at least a share of the lead heading into the final round of a major tournament.
The putting must improve to get there, but Woods' ho-hum day at Augusta was a welcome sight for his fans after last year's clunker in this same position.
Rory McIlroy (E, t-33)
After a hot start, the pre-Amen Corner demons from 2011 started to creep up on McIlroy yet again.
Sitting at two-under with a couple of fancy putts (No. 6) under his belt and in position to make a push to the top of the leaderboard at No. 10, McIlroy bogeyed the 10th before doing the same on No. 12. Sitting at even from that point on, he continued to trade birdies and bogeys before finally parring the 18th for an even finish.
After an up-and-down season for the former world No. 1, this was far from a perfect start to the 2013 Masters.
Hopefully McIlroy can draw on the good from his Thursday round (five birdies) and ignore the demons from the bad (five bogeys, including No. 10 and No. 12). While it looked like McIlroy was ready to come out and give the field a big test this weekend, his first-round scorecard leaves plenty to be desired.
Phil Mickelson (-1, t-23)
As bad as Mickelson was during the early part of the first round, he made up for it with a sparkling finish to his day on Thursday.
Sitting at two over and in danger of finishing behind the 14-year-old Guan, Mickelson stormed back, putting in birdies on 12, 13, 15 and 16 before succumbing to a bogey putt again on No. 17. The heralded lefty then saved par on No. 18 to finish his day at one-under.
While the first round has never really meant much to Mickelson (he's finished in the top five with first-round scores of 74 and 73) it was nice to see him turn Thursday into a Sunday on the back nine.
His all-or-nothing style of play makes for an inconsistent round at times, but when Mickelson is hitting greens with regularity (15-of-18 to lead the field on Thurdsay, per the ESPN broadcast), he's a tough golfer to beat in the final two rounds at Augusta.
Phil was admittedly nervous this year (via Helen Ross of PGATour.com), and that might have played a role in his early-round struggles. He didn't show any fear on the back nine, however, and took advantage of the soft greens to salvage what could have been a poor first round.
Justin Rose (-2, t-13)
Rose, one of the dark-horse favorites to win this event, took a page out of the Tiger Woods handbook on Thursday.
He came out hot with a birdie on No. 1, and added birdies on three of the four par-fives to make his two bogeys seem less significant at the end of the round. As you'll likely hear on the broadcast and in the analysis over the next few days, picking up strokes on the long holes is a key component to winning it all at Augusta.
As noted by Justin Ray of ESPN, Rose has been one of the most consistent golfers at Augusta over the past few years:
Rose is the golfer closest to the cusp of greatness; he has never won a major championship to cement his status as a star of the Tour.
Currently No. 3 in the World Golf Rankings, he finished in the top 10 at both the Masters and the PGA Championship in 2012, signaling a turn in his career toward the top of the heap. He was also one of the heroes for the European team in 2012 Ryder Cup play, going 4-1-0 and edging Mickelson in a singles match thriller that helped Europe regain control.
Now is the time for Rose to take the next step and earn his first green jacket. He flew under the radar on Thursday—a hallmark of his career so far—but is hungry and should continue to be a favorite heading into Friday.
Matt Kuchar (-4, t-4)
Like Rose, Matt Kuchar is ready for a coming out party—why not at Augusta this year?
The American has four top-10 finishes in his last 12 major tournament events, including a tied for third at Augusta in 2012. He is also fresh off a win at the WGC-Accenture Match Play tournament in February, defeating Hunter Mahan in 2 and 1 fashion.
Kuchar finished with a first-round score of 68, just two strokes behind the current leaders.
He's starting to put it together on the big stage; no doubt appearing in the last two Ryder Cups and upping his participation in majors over the past three years has readied him for the big moment of being in contention at Augusta.
Kuchar hit 14 greens in regulation and finished with six birdies—totals that should have the rest of the field wary for his ascension to the top of the leaderboard when things are all said and done on Friday night.
How Others Fared in First Round
Marc Leishman (-6, Co-Leader)
Sergio Garcia (-6, Co-Leader)
Dustin Johnson (-5, 3rd)
David Lynn (-4, t-4)
Fred Couples (-4, t-4)
Jim Furyk (-3, t-10)
Luke Donald (-1, t-23)
Keegan Bradley (+1, t-46)
Tianlang Guan (14 years old, +1, t-46)
Bubba Watson (+3, t-64)
Ian Poulter (+4, t-70)