Defending Masters champion Adam Scott shoots a 3-under-par 69 in the first round
Only one player has won back-to-back Masters titles in the past two decades
Joint pre-tournament favorite Rory McIlroy not far behind Scott at 1-under 71
Debutants Jonas Blixt, Jimmy Walker and Kevin Stadler also impress at Augusta
Nerves for Adam Scott as the defending champion at the Masters? Not so.
In fact, the Australian said it had the opposite effect.
Scott, bidding to become just the second man in more than two decades to defend his title at Augusta, shot a 3-under-par 69 in Thursday’s opening round to leave him joint second alongside 2012 champion Bubba Watson and the man he beat that year, South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen.
They trail surprise leader Bill Haas of the U.S. by one shot.
“I think winning very much calms you down here,” Scott told Sky Sports. “It’s the calmest start I ever had here and it was a pleasure to be out there today.
“It was a fantastic response from the patrons coming to every tee. I loved every minute.”
Scott hit five birdies, his lone blemish coming at the 12th with a double bogey. But Rory McIlroy, who entered the tournament as joint favorite with Scott according to some British bookmakers, suspected the 12th would pose problems for quite a few of those in the field.
“I played really well today from tee to green,” said Scott, the highest ranked golfer at the Masters with Tiger Woods injured. “I just hit one poor shot on 12.
“I’m very pleased with my start and it’s something to build on for sure.”
Scott’s success a year ago at Augusta marked his first major to end years of disappointment, and although McIlroy owns two major titles, when it comes to the Masters the Northern Irishman is most associated with his agonizing collapse in 2011.
He led by four shots entering the final round but then came unstuck.
On Thursday he proclaimed himself pleased with his round of 71, to leave him one shot under par.
“I feel good,” McIlroy, 24, told Sky. “I feel like I’m better prepared than I ever have been and I think I’ll feel like that every year I come back because experience counts for so much on this golf course.
“The golf course set up today was very difficult for a Thursday. Some of the pin placements were pins you’d expect to see on the weekends so to shoot under par today I felt was a good effort.”
Haas, who has never finished in the top 10 at a major, bogeyed his first hole and the 17th but in between struck five birdies. He birdied the last hole, too.
“I was leading last week after the first round and finished 37th, so I know there’s tons of golf left,” Haas, the son of a U.S. Ryder Cup player, told reporters, referring to the Houston Open.
The last Masters rookie to win the title was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 but three were in contention Thursday: Americans Kevin Stadler and Jimmy Walker, and Swede Jonas Blixt. They all finished at 2-under.
Stadler and dad Craig – the 1982 winner – became the first father-son combo to compete at the same Masters.
Kevin Stadler easily bettered his 60-year-old dad, who shot a 10-over 82 and said it was likely his farewell Masters.
“I played like a moron,” Craig Stadler told reporters.
Meanwhile, three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson was among the big names to struggle at Augusta, after carding a 76. England’s Luke Donald finished the day with a disastrous 78, while compatriot, and defending U.S. Open champion, Justin Rose limped home only two shots better off.