13 Nov 2020 | Professional golf |

Casey leads at a very different Masters

by Martin Blake

Paul Casey Augusta image
Paul Casey celebrates a birdie with caddie John McLaren at Augusta today. Photo: Getty

We knew it was going to be a different Masters. Just how different became apparent very quickly today at Augusta National.

With a storm delay and some rain and an autumnal tournament for the first time, the course was soft. Players stuck their approaches and reeled them back. Putts failed to shift off their line so much. “The putts aren’t moving,” said Tiger Woods, the defending champion.

In the absence of spectators, players had to ask camera operators to tell them where their golf balls had gone. And of course, the roars that drift across the course were missing. There were no colourful blooms on the Azaleas and the Dogwoods lacked their beautiful white hue.

Augusta National was unrecognisable, almost, other than for the feel-good opening tee shots by Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, Nicklaus suggesting the few people gathered around the first tee that they spread out lest he hit them.

Bryson DeChambeau tried to monster the golf course but failed, although he was not disgraced. A tick for Dr Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones, the architects of this Georgia masterpiece. “This golf course, as much as I’m trying to attack it, it can bite back,” said DeChambeau, who took double bogey seven at the par-five 13th hole.

Ultimately they could not complete the first round because of the delay, but there was time enough for England’s Paul Casey to shoot a 65 and take the lead at seven under par. Casey is two shots clear of Americans Webb Simpson and Xander Schaffele at 67 along with Justin Thomas (five under through 10), while Woods enjoyed an excellent day with an opening 68 to be in the mix, going bogey-free and carding his equal-lowest first round at the Masters.

DeChambeau, the US Open champion and pre-tournament favorite shot a two-under 70 by making birdie at his last two holes.

Adam Scott made four birdies on the front nine to move into the best spot among the five Australians in the field, while Marc Leishman and Jason Day both opened with 70s.

Round one will resume at 7.30 am Augusta time tomorrow.

Casey’s position on top should not surprise, since for years now, he has been in that category of ‘best players not to win a major’, a group that used to include Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia but nowadays focuses upon Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Matt Kuchar, Schauffele, Tommy Fleetwood and company.

At 43, he is playing some of his best golf, runner-up to Collin Morikawa at the PGA Championship and ranked No. 21 in the world.

The Englishman has had five top-10 finishes in 13 previous starts at the Masters, with a best of tied-fourth in 2016.

Today he came out of the gate with a birdie at the par-four 10th, made four more birdies with pure iron shots and a great eagle at the par-five second, where he hit it in close.

“I know this golf course better than most, my first Masters was 2004,” he said afterward. “It's a golf course I love to play.

"What I desperately want is people pouring through the gates to watch myself and others play golf, but until that happens, I'll make the most of it." Round one leaders

-7 Paul Casey (Eng) (65) -5 Webb Simpson, Xander Schaffele (US) (67), Justin Thomas (US) through 10 -4 Tiger Woods, Patrick Reed (US), Hideki Matsuyama (Japan), Lee Westwood (England), Louis Oosthuizen (South Af), Adam Scott (Aus) through 10, Dylan Fritelli (South Af) through 9, Matthew Wolff (US) through 11.

Masters 2020 Rd 1 leaderboard_image

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