By: Chip Patterson, Kyle Porter | CBS Sports
April 11, 2019
The 2019 Masters is off and rolling with major champions all bunched up at the top of the leaderboard and four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods very much in the hunt for another green jacket. Woods shot a 2-under 70, matching his first round score from each of his first three Masters victories. It falls in line with the way Woods has traditionally won these big tournaments, shooting in the low 70s on Thursday and then hitting the gas to go low on Friday and/or Saturday before defending a 54-hole lead on Sunday. The only problem is that, in 2019, the competition is much better than it was in 1997, 2001 or 2002. That first-round 70 has him hanging on with 10 other players just outside the top 10.
That top-10 status is important considering each of the last 13 Masters winners has come from the top 10 at the conclusion of the first round. So while Tiger's score and his history suggest he's got a chance to win this thing, there's a lot of work left to be done by the time he gets to the tee on Friday afternoon for his second round.
The story of the afternoon was Brooks Koepka, who answered criticism of his weight loss in dominant fashion as he grabbed a share of the 18-hole lead late Thursday in his first Masters start as a major champion. After a mostly uneventful first nine, Koepka ran off five birdies in six holes to start the second nine and grab the tournament by the throat. But he's not alone. Bryson DeChambeau was equally as impressive, holding T1 alongside Koepka after firing off four straight birdies to end his opening round with a 6-under 66.
In total, there are 20 players within four strokes of the lead. Thursday didn't do much to sort out the top, but it did nearly eliminate several players we were watching heading into the week. Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth Paul Casey all played themselves out of contention. Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed and Sergio Garcia all carded 1-over 73s. All of these world golfers are capable of going low on Friday to make the cut, but as they currently sit outside the top 40 on the leaderboard, it's hard to imagine that any of them have a real shot to win.
When Koepka last played in the Masters, he had one PGA Tour win, no majors and was ranked 25th in the world. Koepka himself pointed to the experience of watching the 2018 Masters at home as a motivating factor in a renewed commitment to the game. Ever since, there hasn't been a better major championship player on the planet, and he seems extra motivated by the talk about his weight coming into the week.
As Koepka pushed the lead out late in the day on Thursday, Tiger Woods might have been thinking about two or three short misses on the green during his first nine. His focus and excellent execution of the game plan across the second nine erased any lingering frustration from those misses in the moment, but now that we see the leaderboard as it stands, those are strokes he could've used to better position himself for Friday.
Phil Mickelson had a strong finish, who had to pull out all the stops over the second nine during his charge. He rode the wave of good scoring in the afternoon and seemed to be in the zone, carding five birdies over the last seven holes, including being one of the few golfers to get a birdie on the 18th.