Augusta: Masters debutants Jonas Blixt and Kevin Stadler sprinted out of the blocks to grab the early clubhouse lead on two-under-par 70, in the opening round of the 78th Masters, here on Thursday.
Miguel Angel Jimenez was setting the pace out on the course after the pony-tailed Spaniard squeezed four birdies into a four-under front nine of 32.
Another seasoned campaigner, American Steve Stricker, was in second place on three under, after 10 holes on a sun-kissed morning in the first major championship of the season.
The shortest club was the hottest in the bag for Blixt as he took only 11 putts on the way to an outward nine of 33, three under.
The 29-year-old Florida-based Swede, who has won twice on the PGA Tour, then produced a sumptuous approach to the par-five 13th.
“I struck the ball fairly well, but didn’t drive it as well as I had the last couple days,” Stadler told reporters after coping well with the fast-running, heavily contoured greens on his Masters debut.
“I kept it in play, hit a bunch of greens and kept away from the three-putts, so it was a good day. I was a little bit nervous on the (first) tee, but that’s got to be expected, I would say.”
Stadler, who booked his place at the Masters by winning his maiden PGA Tour title at the Phoenix Open in February, relished the course conditions on Thursday in the knowledge that the hilly layout would firm up over the next three days.
“It was perfect today, and I assume it’s just going to get harder and harder and harder,” said the 34-year-old.“The greens were holding just enough and they were very quick.
“They had a few inches of rain a few days ago, so it’s kind of scary. It’s going to get tough over the weekend.”
Blixt missed his eagle putt there from seven feet, but safely tapped in for another birdie before bogeys at the 15th and 18th took him back to two under. Stadler, the son of 1982 Masters winner Craig, was a model of consistency as he mixed four birdies with two dropped strokes.
Florida-based Blixt, a double winner on the PGA Tour, said he felt a little nervous on the first tee but was in an upbeat mood after ending the opening round with a haul of six birdies and four dropped shots. (Reuters)