AUGUSTA, Ga. — So, you strapped in yet? As if the 2019 Masters needed any help getting golf fans fired up, a guy named Tiger Woods placed his name atop the leaderboard for much of the afternoon. He was later surpassed by heavyweights like Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, and then Bryson DeChambeau, who nearly holed out on No. 18 with an amazing shot that hit the stick and then nestled inches from the cup.
And this was just opening day.
Here's a look at the leaderboard, and here are five things you need to know about the Masters from Thursday:
1. TIGER STARTED STRONG
Sure he's shown flashes, but on Thursday at Augusta National it sure looked like the old Tiger Woods was back. Woods posted back-to-back birdies on Nos. 13 and 14 to jump into a tie for the lead. He dropped a shot on No. 17 but still finished with an impressive 70.
Despite swirling winds, Woods told reporter Brian Mull for this piece at Augusta.com that he was pleased with his control.
“It kind of swirls out there and it’s hard to get a bead on exactly what it’s doing at all times,” Woods said. “With as hot as it was the ball was flying a long way and you had to take advantage of it. I played well today and controlled my golf ball today.”
Woods previously told longtime Augusta Chronicle golf writer David Westin in this article penned prior to the event that he was feeling like he could make a run.
“I’m right there where I need to be,” Woods said. “I’ve gotten a little bit more consistent with my play, and I think that everything is headed on track towards April.”
Here's a look at Woods' round in photos.
2. DeCHAMBEAU, KOEPKA GOT IT GOING
After watching Tiger and others go struggle with the breeze, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau had little trouble with the afternoon conditions as they each used big back nines to climb to the top of the leaderboard.
DeChambeau's final iron of the day was scintillating — the native Californian hit the stick on No. 18 and watched his ball finally come to rest a few inches from the cup. He putted out for a fourth straight birdie, finishing the day at 6-under par.
Koepka, meanwhile, had birdies on five six holes after making the turn and also finished with an opening round 66.
As for playing well in a major, that's becoming old hat for Koepka, who has won three majors in the last two years.
"I enjoy the big stage," he said. "I enjoy major championships. I just get a good feeling; I don't know how to explain it."
3. HARDING HAD NO TROUBLE FITTING IN
You'd think Justin Harding might be a bit intimidated, making his first appearance at Augusta National and all.
Instead, the South African saw his name near or at the top of the leaderboard for much of Thursday afternoon.
Harding told David Westin for this story at Augusta.com that a long stretch of solid play has set a positive tone.
“Golf is purely momentum based,” Harding said. “If you take enough confidence into the rounds then you’re bound to play well. Just pretty much need to get out of your own way.”
Harding finished with five birdies on the day, including one on the opening hole courtesy of an impressive 10-foot putt.
“That one going in gave me a boost and calmed me down,” he said.
4. RORY HAUNTED BY THE SIMPLE THINGS
After fine-tuning his game in weeks prior to the Masters, many assumed Rory McIlroy would roar out of the gates on Thursday.
Instead, Rory knocked his first shot of the day into the trees, and struggled to an uneven 73.
Even more frustrating, Will Cheney wrote in this story for Augusta.com, was the fact that the course was there for the taking.
“I mean, I felt the course was there. It’s soft. There’s not much wind,” he said. “I made five birdies, that wasn’t the problem. I just made too many mistakes and that was the problem. And I’m making mistakes from pretty simple positions, just off the side of the green, 17 and 18 being prime examples of that."
5. JACK AND GARY ARE STILL ELECTRIC
The opening day at the Masters brings one of the greatest moments in sports — the Honorary Starter ceremony.
This year's event didn't disappoint. For the second consecutive year, Gary Player outdrove Jack Nicklaus — and the masses loved every minute.
CBS commentator Jim Nantz told reporter Doug Stutsman for this article at Augusta.com that he nearly missed the moment due to traffic.
Nantz said the moment just keeps getting bigger and bigger.
“I’ve never seen this many folks,” Nantz said. “It’s tremendous. Maybe chalk it up to our reduced field and the (opening ceremony) being about a half-hour later than other years. We’ve had this as early as 7:40 a.m. but this time was 30 minutes past that. That extra half-hour allowed a lot more people to be here.”
Here's a link to a photo gallery from folks spotted on the course.
And here's a list of reporters who are at Augusta (and Tweeting) this week:
A Twitter List by TMSGateHouse