AUGUSTA, Ga. — How tough did Augusta National play during the first round of the Masters?
“I feel like I just got in the ring with Mike Tyson,” Gary Woodland said after a 1-over 73.
“I feel like just came out of the ring with Evander Holyfield,” echoed Sergio Garcia, who posted a 4-over 76.
Generational boxing metaphors aside, the course played to a scoring average of 74.52, the main outlier score coming from the torrid Justin Rose, who torched the back-nine and totaled a 7-under 65, good for a four-stroke lead.
After Rose’s round, his swing instructor, Sean Foley, walked past a reporter, who asked, “Bet you’d take that score on Sunday, huh?”
To which Foley jokingly replied, “I would’ve taken that score on Tuesday.”
Of course, that hardly means Rose has one arm in the green jacket already.
Let’s take a look at five players worth taking a chance on for live outright bets with 54 holes left to play.
Jordan Spieth (+800)
I know, I know: The immediate feeling on this one is that we shouldn’t chase a player who’s a half-dozen strokes back after an opening 71 at two-thirds of the price where he started. That’s certainly one way of looking at it. Another is that we have the advantage of knowing that his game has carried over from last week’s Valero Texas Open victory and a handful of his fellow big-name players have already essentially eliminated themselves from a serious title run. The other aspect which makes this intriguing is that Spieth will play in the morning wave during Friday’s second round.
If Thursday’s trend holds true once again, conditions should be easier for the early groups, which could help level some of the playing field.
Xander Schauffele (+2200)
Earlier this week, I asked Schauffele why he tends to play his best golf in the biggest events. “I wish I knew,” he said with a laugh. If we’re assuming that an elite player will again win this week, then Xander certainly qualifies and his opening 72 puts him in fine position.
He’s struggled to close when in contention over the past two years, but he’s eminently capable of winning a title of this caliber.
Collin Morikawa (+4000)
Same theory here. Morikawa opened with a 73, but we’re well aware of his abilities in a major championship which places a premium on ball-striking. If he can putt anything close to what we witnessed during last month’s victory at the WGC at The Concession, he’s a dangerous candidate to vault up the leaderboard.
Viktor Hovland (+5000)
Back in 1997, Tiger Woods made the turn in 40 during the first round, then wound up winning by 12. Now, I’m not suggesting Hovland has anything close to the same firepower as an in-prime Tiger, but even recreational golfers who have started rounds with an ugly number understand that lowering the bar of expectations can essentially offer the freedom to subsequently play more aggressively. Hovland started his tournament with a triple-bogey, but carded five birdies and played his final 17 holes in 2-under to shoot 73.
If he can continue stepping on the gas pedal — and yes, avoiding any more big numbers — he can get back into the mix this weekend.
Brooks Koepka (+5000)
I became bullish on Koepka as soon as he announced he was playing this tournament, just a few weeks removed from knee surgery. The four-time major champion relishes proving his doubters wrong — and he doesn’t often have many chances, considering there aren’t many who would ever doubt a healthy Koepka these days.
He’s still limping around a bit, but after the round he offered no excuses and maintained that his doctors have told him he can’t do any more damage to the injury, which should allow him to remain confident with his swing.
That opening 74 was a little higher than Brooks backers would’ve liked, but there’s reason to believe he’ll continue getting stronger with each competitive round, which could mean a big weekend is in store.
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