Tom Watson Says Breaking Par Was ‘Minor Miracle’: Masters Notes

Tom Watson says it was a “minor miracle” he was able to break par at golf’s Masters Tournament at the age of 65. It was also a record.

Watson on Thursday took advantage of favorable course and weather conditions to become the oldest player in the tournament’s 79-year history to shoot under par. The 1977 and 1981 Masters champion had four birdies and three bogeys in his round of 1-under-par 71, seven shots behind leader Jordan Spieth.

“It’s fun to be able to at least be in red figures at Augusta National,” said Watson, who’s missed the cut in 11 of the past 12 years and last broke par with a first-round 67 at the 2010 Masters. “At my age, it’s a minor miracle.”

Sam Snead had been the oldest previous player to shoot under 72 at the Masters, with a 71 at age 61 in 1974.

Watson finished with the same first-round score as Bubba Watson, albeit with a much different approach than the 36-year-old defending champion, who’s the second-longest driver on the U.S. PGA Tour this season.

“The kids are hitting 8 irons to seven, and 9 irons to nine, and I’m back there hitting 3 irons off the down slope,” Tom Watson said. “It’s a hard shot for an old guy like me.”

Not counting the 350-yard third hole, the average distance of Tom Watson’s second shots on Augusta National’s other nine par-4 holes was 203.4 yards. By comparison, Bubba Watson’s approach shots on those same holes averaged 169 yards.

Tom Watson enters the second round seeking to become the oldest player to make the cut at the Masters. That mark is currently held by Tommy Aaron, who was 63 in 2000 when he made the cut for weekend play.

“I played the golf course enough times to know where I’m supposed to hit it and where I’m not supposed to hit it,” Tom Watson said on Thursday. “I struggled the last few years trying to hit shots like I used to. My ego got involved too much the last few years. Today I played within myself.”

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Tiger Woods shot a 1-over-par 73 in his first competitive round in two months. It was a welcome sign for the majority of bettors at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.

The over/under betting line for Woods’s opening round was 73 1/2 and about two-thirds of the action was on the under, said SuperBook assistant manager Jeff Sherman. Woods entered the Masters coming off his worst score as a professional in his last full tournament round, an 11-over-par 82 in the second round of the Phoenix Open in January.

About 66 percent of bettors at the SuperBook also wagered that Woods will make the cut for weekend play.

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As Woods prepared to play the par-3 12th hole in the heart of “Amen Corner” on Thursday, spectator Dan Kusic dropped to one knee, pulled out a jewelry box and proposed to girlfriend Christina McNeel. The Pittsburgh couple, who had been dating for 2 1/2 years, were both at their first Masters.

After she accepted, the couple embraced and kissed.

“He was as cool as a cucumber,” McNeel said. “He never said a word about it. When he went down on one knee, I almost passed out. I froze and it seemed like everything went silent.”

Kusic said he’d been planning to pop the question for several weeks leading up to the Masters and chose the oft-photographed 12th hole “because I’ve always thought it was the most beautiful spot on the golf course.”

After Woods and playing partners Jamie Donaldson and Jimmy Walker left the tee, spectators nearby broke into applause to celebrate the Masters proposal.

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Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter were among those in the massive galleries that followed Tiger Woods during his opening round.

Romo, 34, is an avid golfer outside his job in the National Football League, having tried several times to qualify for the U.S. Open and teaming with Woods at the U.S. PGA Tour’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am tournament in 2012.

Romo, who also spent time watching Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy, said he’s confident Woods will fare well this week at the Masters, where the four-time Masters winner shot a 73 in his first competitive round in two months.

“He’s going to get back at it,” Romo, who wore an untucked black Dallas National Golf Club shirt, said in an interview. “I’m not concerned. He’s had so much success here.”

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Ben Crenshaw, the 1984 and 1995 Masters champion, is playing the Masters for the final time this year and opened with a 91, his worst score in 44 appearances. The 63-year-old Crenshaw has missed the cut the past seven years.

The worst recorded score in tournament history was a 95 by Charles Kunkle in 1956.

Mike Weir, the 2003 Masters winner, also struggled with a 10-over-par 82. Weir, 44, had seven bogeys and a double-bogey, a continuation of the struggles that dropped the Canadian left-hander to 361st in the world entering the Masters.

Gunn Yang, the 21-year-old U.S. amateur champion, shot an 85 during the opening round.

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The first round was played primarily under a sunny sky in Augusta, with the temperature climbing as high as 89 degrees Fahrenheit (31.6 Celsius) in the afternoon. Woods frequently grabbed a towel from his caddy to mop the sweat off his forehead after starting in the next-to-last group on Thursday.

Friday’s second round could be different.

A cold front is expected to bring increased chances for rain and thunderstorms in the late afternoon during the second round, according to the tournament’s weather update. A few storms could be severe, with the potential for heavy downpours, strong winds, hail and frequent lightning.

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-In each of the past five Masters, McIlroy has had one round of 77 or higher. McIlroy needs a Masters win to complete the career Grand Slam of all four major titles, having already won the U.S and British opens and the PGA Championship. He opened with a 71 on Thursday.

-The oldest player to finish in the top 10 at the Masters was Jack Nicklaus, who tied for sixth at age 58 in 1998.

-Bubba Watson is seeking to become the fourth player to win consecutive Masters, joining Nicklaus (1965-66), Nick Faldo (1989-90) and Woods (2001-02).

-None of the seven amateurs in the field broke par during the opening round. The top amateur was Byron Meth at 2-over 74.

-Texas has produced the most Masters champions of any state, with 12. Spieth was born and resides in Dallas.

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