- Tiger Woods has some work to do to catch co-leaders Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau. Can the four-time champ find a way to make up some ground?
We spent weeks preparing narratives and questions and predictions for the Masters. And then, in the span of two hours, they all become either obsolete or obscenely inaccurate, or both. Such is the nature of tournament golf, which reminds us time and time again how futile any forecasting effort ultimately is.
The good thing about the internet is, you never have to wait long to get a second crack at the content. With that in mind, let’s take a look at three questions ahead of Day 2 at Augusta National.
Is Brooks happening again?
Few—myself included—gave Brooks Koepka much of a chance coming into this tournament…despite the fact that he’s won three of the last six majors he’s played in. He said after a listless Players Championship that he felt “out of sorts” after losing 24 pounds since November. He also said he’d lost 10-12 yards of driving distance. After word leaked this week that the precipice for the trim-down was wanting to look good for ESPN The Magazine’s body issue, pundits galore ripped him for self-sabotaging himself while in his athletic prime.
The joke’s on us, it seems.
Koepka gave another one of his ruthlessly stoic performances, hardly smiling as he smashed perfect drive after perfect drive to bring Augusta National to its knees. He made six birdies to shoot 66 and hold a share of the lead with Bryson DeChambeau heading into Friday.
Was the weight loss stuff a way to convince himself he’s an underdog once again? Maybe. Should we stop paying attention to how he plays in regular PGA Tour events? Maybe. Here’s what we do know: this was the latest in a growing mountain of evidence that Brooks Koepka simply plays major championships better than anyone else. A win would be his third major in four tries—Tiger and Jack both only ever did that once.
Can Tiger keep pace?
Tiger shot a stress-free opening round 70, and it could have been lower had he not missed four putts inside 10 feet. He was just one back of the lead when he walked off the course, but that seemed weird—there was rain early in the week, and there was virtually no wind on Thursday. Why hadn’t anyone posted a low score?
They eventually did. It just took a while. Well after Tiger finished, Koepka and DeChambeau posted matching 66s, Phil Mickelson got in at 67, and Dustin Johnson and Ian Poulter polished off 68s. Unless the weather worsens, there’s no reason to believe the birdies will slow. Tiger’s also teeing off much later in the day Friday (1:49 PM ET), so there’s a good chance he’s already six or seven back before he hits a shot. He is likely going to need a round in the 60s on Friday if he is to enter the weekend within striking distance.
Can Rose, Thomas and McIlroy bounce back?
So many of the big names showed out on Thursday—Bryson and Brooks and Phil and Dustin and Tiger and Rahm and Finau, to name a few—but three of the pre-tournament favorites failed to stay on trend. Justin Rose put forth perhaps the most shocking performance of the day with a three-over 75; Justin Thomas three-putted 18 for a 73; and Rory McIlroy made six bogeys en route to a 73.
All three of these guys entered with legitimate green jacket aspirations. Now, they find themselves behind the perennial eight ball, badly needing to make up shots quickly. All three are capable of shooting something in the mid 60s, but if they play tomorrow like they did today, we could see a weekend without these three superstars.