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With the November rain at Augusta seeming a distant memory now, normality appears to be getting that little bit closer and having the Masters in April is a huge sign of that, even though the great Tiger Woods will be watching from afar.
Four days of the sport’s sternest test awaits 90 golfers from Thursday onwards, but history tells us that there are some players who tend to fly out of the traps better than others when it comes to the big tournaments. So, when it comes to Augusta, there are the minority who rise to the occasion on Day One.
With that in mind, here are four players who might just be sitting pretty on the leaderboard after the first round on Thursday.
If Tiger Woods’ triumph in 2019 is regarded as one of the greatest sporting comeback stories of all time, then a Masters’ triumph for Lee Westwood this week wouldn’t be too far behind. Having won the 2009 European Order Of Merit, Westwood went on an 11 years barren spell before achieving that same feat last December.
In that same period, he only managed to win four times, which isn’t good enough for a former world number one. But, one thing which has remained in-tact is his remarkable record around Augusta. He heads to Georgia this week having made 12 consecutive cuts in the Masters, and on eight of those occasions he’s finished in the top 20. And usually, it’s been a solid first round which has put him in the mix.
He was a first round leader in 2012, he was tied second two years before that in 2010 and since 2017, he has twice been in the top 10 placings after Day One. Westwood has never been in better form heading to Augusta and if he is to contend on Sunday evening, another bright start is crucial to him breaking his Major duck.
He’s an obvious pick for outright honours after his Texas triumph on Sunday, but for those who might not know, his first round performances around Augusta have been exceptional. So good, that in three of the last six US Masters, he’s been first round leader on his own.
Last weekend’s win didn’t come as a surprise to many, as while he hadn’t won in nearly four years, he had been showing plenty of signs of coming back to his brilliant self in recent weeks. Having won around Augusta in 2015, as well as adding the 2015 US Open and 2017 Open Championship, Spieth has already proven himself as one of the world’s greatest golfers and he’s clearly back to that level of form now.
There’s no doubting that the terrific Texan excels on confidence and following that overdue win last weekend, he’ll be rearing to on Thursday. He not only might he be the man to catch again after Day One, but he could well do a wire-to-wire – just like he did back in 2015 and like Dustin Johnson did six months ago.
A bit like Spieth and Westwood in recent times, Justin Rose is going through a bit of a slump right now and that’s far from ideal heading into the first Major of the year. A world number one in 2019, Rose has suffered a mixed couple of years since changing his equipment and now sits at 41st place in the golf world rankings.
However, he has shown signs of a resurgence and while he may have withdrawn from the Arnold Palmer Invitational four weeks ago through injury, he had gone into the weekend just four shots off the pace. Like his compatriot Westwood, his Augusta record is top notch. Two runner-up berths are full proof of Rose’s love for the famous hallowed turf, but his first round record is impressive too.
In 2015, he was tied second after 18 holes (behind Spieth), and 12 months later, he sat in tied fourth spot after the opening day, as he did in 2017 en route to his runner-up performance behind Sergio Garcia. He hasn’t quite matched that in recent years but last November, when not at his peak, he shot a 67 to be in a tie for fifth spot and that’s more evidence of how he blooms at Augusta more than anywhere else.
He may not be in the form to bag his first green jacket this week, but Rose sitting pretty after Day One might be the best value you’ll get on the first round leader betting front.
Up to last November’s US Masters, Matt Kuchar boasted as fine a record around the famous course. Having finished in a tie for third place in 2012, he has since proved that he is up to this through test as during a 10-year period from 2009-2019, where he never missed the cut, he has also registered three further top 10 performances, with five other assaults seeing him finish just outside the top 20.
His rare blip last year can be put down to a combination of a different Augusta than normal and it came during a time when he was out of sorts. However, he seems to have found his rhythm once again and heads into this week’s Major with two fine efforts under his belt at the World Matchplay (3rd) and Valero Texas Open (T12).
Like the three players above, he tends to start well at the Masters too. In 2018, he sat tied second after Thursday, before going on to finish in a share for third spot. Meanwhile in both 2011 and 2013, he found himself on the heels of the leader after a sterling opening 18 holes. Kuchar’s overall record at Augusta is testament to his respect of the Carolina course and another big week could be on the cards for him, starting with a fine first round display.
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