The Biggest Surprises from Day 1 at the 2014 Masters

Mike DudurichContributor IApril 10, 2014

The Biggest Surprises from Day 1 at the 2014 Masters

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    Phil Mickelson had a typical Phil Mickelson round on Thursday.
    Phil Mickelson had a typical Phil Mickelson round on Thursday.Andrew Redington/Getty Images

    Was it surprising that Fred Couples, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Bernhard Langer are near the top of the leaderboard? Nope. It's surprising when they don't have good first rounds.

    Was it surprising that Jason Day opened with a 75 after coming in as one of the handful of players viewed as a favorite? No. He hadn't played since the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship because of a nagging thumb injury, and that's a tough way to play a major championship.

    Was it surprising that Phil Mickelson was on a roller-coaster all day at Augusta National, finally finishing at 76, which matched his highest first-round score at the Masters? Not at all. Mickelson has established no momentum this season and this was almost predictable.

    Here's a look at a half-dozen surprises from the first day of the Masters. 

Jonas Blixt Soared for a While

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    It wasn't all fairways and greens for Jonas Blixt in the first round of the Masters.
    It wasn't all fairways and greens for Jonas Blixt in the first round of the Masters.Matt Slocum

    Through 13 holes, Jonas Blixt was leading the Masters at four-under par. Pretty lofty position for a guy playing his first Masters and only his second major. The other major was last year's PGA Championship, where he finished fourth.

    His last five holes were a little tougher on Thursday. He made two bogeys in those five and finished two-under par. The strong showing has him feeling optimistic about his chances, and after the round he said (via AP's Tim Dahlberg), "I just got a good feeling being on the grounds. It's a soothing feeling."

    Should Blixt find himself in a position to win Sunday, a victory would make him the first Swede to win a major title. Saying a Swedish golfer would challenge for the title a Augusta wouldn't have been outlandish, but it's surprising that Blixt is the one doing so, and not Henrik Stenson, the world's No. 3 ranked player. 

     

Zach Johnson Had a Bad Day

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    Zack Johnson had a tough day at the Masters Thursday.
    Zack Johnson had a tough day at the Masters Thursday.Chris O'Meara

    Zach Johnson had a three-week stretch in January when he won, tied for eighth and tied for third. He seemed poised to take off toward a big season. There haven't been a lot of great outings since, but because he's a former Masters champion (he won in 2007), it was thought he could be a factor this week.

    That was before a six-bogey round of 78 that has him tied with legendary Tom Watson. His day started rough with bogeys of four of the first six holes, and it didn't get any better as he failed to record a single birdie. 

    For a player who doesn't bomb it (Johnson ranked 134th on the PGA Tour in driving distance entering the tournament), he needs to play very well at Augusta to have a chance, but he didn't on Thursday. 

Bill Haas Takes Early Control

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    Bill Haas put it all together in the first round of the Masters.
    Bill Haas put it all together in the first round of the Masters.David J. Phillip

    In his last seven starts, Bill Haas has posted only one top 10 finish. Last week, he finished in a tie for 37th in the Shell Houston Open. But that wasn't the guy who teed it up Thursday. Haas made six birdies and only two bogeys in very good scoring conditions.

    Ranked No. 31 in the world coming into Augusta, Haas' first-round performance has the golf world thoroughly surprised, as ESPN's Gene Wojchiechowski notes that this is his first ever round in the 60s at the Masters. Now, the question is, can he keep it up?

    He tied for 20th at the Masters last year, and in his 17 appearances in major championships, he has yet to register a top 10 finish. But with an excellent start to the tournament, Haas has a chance to be a mainstay at the top of the leaderboard for the next three days. 

     

Louis Oosthuizen Comes from Nowhere

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    Louis Oosthuizen came from nowhere to shoot 69 Thursday.
    Louis Oosthuizen came from nowhere to shoot 69 Thursday.Darron Cummings

    Louis Oosthuizen won the 2010 British Open, but his biggest successes since have been winning the Volvo Golf Championships back-to-back in his native South Africa. He did finish second in the Masters in 2012, but that was the only year he made the cut in five trips to Augusta.

    His last three starts on the PGA Tour have been a tie for 40th place and two missed cuts. But he remembered how to play Thursday, putting up six birdies and three bogeys.

    While Oosthuizen certainly didn't have the hot hand heading into the tournament, he has momentum now after finishing three-under for the day, putting him in a tie for second. 

    But the road won't get any easier from here for the South African, who has dealt with back issues recently, as noted by Golf Week's Jeff Rude. To put more pressure on, the two men tied for second with Oosthuizen are Adam Scott and Bubba Watson, the last two Masters champions. 

Jason Dufner Went to Sleep on No. 13

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    Jason Dufner didn't play all that badly with the exception of the 13th hole.
    Jason Dufner didn't play all that badly with the exception of the 13th hole.Rob Carr/Getty Images

    You know him as the winner of the 2013 PGA Championship, a two-shot victory over Jim Furyk at Oak Hill.

    Jason Dufner, the quiet and most expressionless one, came to Augusta on a bit of a roll, having finished tied for ninth and 14th in his last three tournaments. Perhaps the first major since the PGA Championship would spark him.

    And he cruised through the front nine at even-par, he double-bogeyed the 10th, bogeyed the 11th and quadruple-bogeyed the 13th and finished with an 80.

    While the last major of 2013 showed what Dufner is capable of, the first major of 2014 is off to a rocky start, and the 37-year-old has a massive hole to dig himself out of on Friday. 

The First-Timers Surprised

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    Jimmy Walker, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour, opened with a 70 at Augusta.
    Jimmy Walker, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour, opened with a 70 at Augusta.Rob Carr/Getty Images

    A record 24 first-timers teed it up Thursday at the Masters with the knowledge that a rookie hasn't won the year's first major since 1979 when Fuzzy Zoeller did it.

    Rookies are never given much of a chance because of the local knowledge necessary, but at the end of the first day, five of those 24 players completed their first rounds under par. Jonas Blixt's impressive day that ended with a score of 7- has already been covered. Jimmy Walker and Kevin Stadler also opened with rounds of 70 and Jordan Spieth and Stephen Gallacher got in at 71.

    Those scores are no guarantees of anything moving forward; only indications that these four rookies handled the first-day nerves very well. It will grow tougher and tougher for these four to continue to defy conventional wisdom.