Laureus Academy Blog: Gary Player at The Masters Part 2
BY GARY PLAYER
It was a terrific first day at The Masters and it started memorably for me. I had the pleasure of joining Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer as official starters as we drove the first tee shots of the championship.
I had quite a few tussles over the years with Jack and Arnold - we have 13 Masters titles between us - so it was nice to join up with them for this special occasion. I thought it was a gracious touch that Phil Mickleson broke into his preparation to come down to the first tee to watch us hit off.
Once we had returned to the clubhouse, the tournament proper began and what a fascinating day we had.
A lot of people have been billing this Masters as Rory McIlroy v Tiger Woods. It may yet come down to that, but it certainly wasn’t today.
I said in my preview that I thought Tiger had driven well in the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks ago, but I’m afraid we saw glimpses of the uncertainty in that part of his game emerge again.
His drives were so wide on the 1st and the 2nd that he could have started double bogey, double bogey. It was only his amazing never-say-die attitude and his superb recovery play that produced two pars from the trees. I believe his mental strength and hunger will keep him in the championship, but he needs to cut out some of these erratic shots.
I was surprised Rory did not look a little more comfortable. His round seemed to lack some of his normal fluency, but I liked the way he came back to be under par after a double bogey six at the 1st. You cannot get down on yourself around Augusta and he kept going. Two birdies on the last two holes is no mean feat and at just four behind he is very much in the mix.
If anyone benefited from the Rory v Tiger hype, it was Lee Westwood. He seems to have crept up on the championship unnoticed and he has given himself a great start as he tries to win his first Major Championship.
What a great driver of the golf ball he is and my goodness he showed us that today. His 67 was very impressive, it tied his best ever score at The Masters, and it could have been even better. On the back nine, he had birdie possibilities at 14, 15, 16 and 18 as well.
I must say how fit I thought Lee looked - as trim as I have ever seen him. And you need to be physically fit and strong to compete for a Major. It was one of the things I worked on throughout my career. You need to be physically strong so that you don’t get tired and can keep mentally alert. And you need to stay mentally alert at Augusta.
I also thought Lee’s short game, which hasn’t always been his strength, looked pretty solid. Another good round on Friday and he could be in very good shape.
I must congratulate my fellow South African Louis Oosthuizen, who is just one shot behind Westwood after an excellent 68. Louis showed the same relaxed composure that he did when he won the Open Championship at St Andrews in 2010.
Can he follow on from Charl Schwartzel as Masters champion? He certainly has the game for it, now he has to show us if he has the appetite to win another Major.
It would surely be a great achievement for South African sport to have two straight Masters winners from the next generation of our golfers.
And what about Scotland’s Paul Lawrie. I must give him a mention as the surprise package of the day. Two eagles in three holes, at 13 and 15, put him at the top of the leaderboard for a while and brought back memories of his Open Championship win at Carnoustie in 1999. I hope he can keep it going and surprise some of the younger players.
Altogether, a thoroughly absorbing opening day which has set the scene for another great Masters.