AUGUSTA, Ga. – For excitement, there was a short burst when Rich Beem made a birdie and an eagle cruising through Amen Corner. For laughs, there was the time when Gary Player reached in his pocket and realized he'd forgotten his ball marker.
As for the rest of the first day of the Masters — well, it felt more like a U.S. Open, with low scores hard to find and barely a roar to be heard rippling through the Georgia pines.
Justin Rose and Brett Wetterich finished at 3-under-par 69 on Thursday to take the early lead. They were two of only nine players to break par on a dry, windy day in which the average score was 76.187, the highest in four years.
"You're not going to go low," said Tiger Woods, who bogeyed the last two holes to finish with a disappointing 73. "Low is only 69 today. That's some pretty good playing."
Indeed, hardly anyone was out of this tournament, and scores didn't figure to improve much given the forecast. Friday's second round began with temperatures in the upper 30s and a steady north breeze that was forecast to get stronger as the day went on. Woods had a 10:34 a.m. tee time.
It meant there was hope for everyone — including Beem, who finished 1 under thanks to his birdie-eagle combo on Nos. 12 and 13, and defending champion Phil Mickelson, who was staying optimistic after a windblown 76.
"If I can shoot a 68 or better, I could get myself back to par and get back in it," said Mickelson, who had an afternoon tee time.
Never mind the fact that no one has won the Masters after shooting worse than 75 in the first round. Who, other than the 12 players who failed to break 80, couldn't hold out at least a glimmer of hope after this day?
Ernie Els shot 78 but thought he still had a chance. Jim Furyk, the distant second in the world behind Woods, shot 75 and was also looking at the bright side.
"Plus-3 isn't out of it," Furyk said. "I didn't do anything well today."
Dean Wilson shot a 75 that didn't include a birdie.
"But when you look up and no one else is doing it, it gives me a boost," he said. "I didn't hear the roars Augusta National is famous for."
There were some guffaws when Player realized he had mistakenly forgotten his ball marker on the first green. He had to bum a dime off amateur Julien Guerrier of France.
"You just kind of chuckle about it and play on," said Vaughn Taylor, the other man in Player's threesome, who shot 71.
After his 83, the 71-year-old Player proclaimed beefed-up Augusta National to have moved onto his list of the three toughest golf courses in the world, along with Carnoustie and The Links in his homeland of South Africa.
The recently added length at Augusta, combined with this kind of weather, was supposed to knock all the oldtimers into oblivion. Funny, then, that names like Craig Stadler (74), Fuzzy Zoeller (74) and Tom Watson (75) spent a good deal of time on the leaderboard.
"Washington Road is softer than the No. 1 green," Zoeller said. "That's the hardest green I think I've ever seen."
Els opened with a double bogey, then took bogey on the par-5 second. He shot 42 on the front nine. U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy was some 50 yards in front of the green on No. 2 when he hit wedge long into a bunker, then hit that shot back toward the fairway, finally pitched up to about 8 feet and three-putted for an 8. He also took a double bogey on the par-3 12th, but still managed a 75.
"You feel like the course is going to get you somewhere," Ben Crenshaw said after a 76. "It doesn't matter who you are."
Woods said the greens were crusting out as badly as they did during a particularly dry year in 1999, but the pin positions were easier than he expected — maybe a bow to the windy weather.
But all that was secondary to Tiger, who was steaming after he grinded his way to below par, only to give it away on the last two holes.
"I just threw away a good round of golf," he said.
Others on that short list in red numbers were David Howell and David Toms at 70, and Tim Clark, J.J. Henry and Zach Johnson at 71.
Rose, meanwhile, returned after five weeks off to take care of a sore back. His round was remarkable for what it lacked: bogeys.
The highlight came when he holed a bunker shot on No. 5 for birdie. In trouble after his tee shot, he aimed for the sand in back of the green, figuring it would be easier to get up and down from there than from the front. Turns out, he got up and down in one shot.
"That's exciting to go bogey-free on any course on any day," Rose said. "But first round at Augusta on a day where obviously the scores are pretty high makes it a very pleasing round. Yeah, one that I'm very happy with, for sure."