China’s Haotong Li was the shock leader at a late stage of Thursday’s first round at Augusta National until eventually a few shots slipped away.
Jordan Spieth went on a birdie spree and the 22-year-old from Shanghai settled for a commendable three-under-par 69 that left him three off the pace and on the same mark as Rory McIlroy, among others. He again demonstrated his potential yesterday when he combined the brilliant with the indifferent to finish within touch of the leaders on one over par after a round of 76.
Growing up in Shanghai, Li came under the influence of Irish PGA professional Paul McLoughlin who at the time was connected to the prestigious Lake Malaren club outside the Chinese capital. His career took off in his late teens until a blistering final round of 63 for third place finish in last year’s British Open Championship at Royal Birkdale earned him a place in the Masters. Earlier this year, he pipped McIlroy by a shot to win the Dubai Desert Classic.
All that said, however, he is probably best known for a famous incident in last year’s French Open at Le Golf National, the venue for the Ryder Cup next September. Li hurled his putter into the water surrounding the 11th green after three-putting during the first round. About 20 minutes later, the then 21-year-old’s mother was
pictured wading knee-deep into the water to recover the club which, as it happened, was no longer in one piece! This was much to the amusement of Tyrrell Hatton, Thomas Pieters, and Alex Noren who were playing the 11th at the time mum took the plunge. No doubt, the young man later got a good dressing down although Hatton, renowned for his temperamental antics on the golf course, was hardly in much of a position himself to pass judgement!
Boy, but wasn’t just about everyone delighted to see Tiger Woods back in the Masters field after a three-year hiatus for repair to an ailing back. Very much to the fore in that respect were his long-time sponsor Nike who welcomed him back with an advertisement showing his career highlights. From his earliest appearances as a child on TV to being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey and a clip from a well-known golf ball juggle ad, the 60-second spot displays a montage of his best moments.
Not surprisingly, it also shows the 2005 Masters when he memorably pitched his ball 25ft left of the hole in a shot that showed Nike’s famous logo right by the hole for almost two seconds before dropping in. Nike has stuck by Woods through the 2009 expose of his extramarital affairs when others such as Gatorade, AT&T, and General Motors cancelled their contracts. The company also stayed with him when he was charged with driving under the influence when he was found asleep behind the wheel of his car.
Woods has won the Masters tournament four times and his endorsement contracts are thought to be worth about $90m (€73m) a year.
This was the 11th time in the last 40 years that a past champion of the Masters has led or jointly led after the first round. None of the previous ten went on to win with Jack Nicklaus in 1972 the last to do so. A double bogey at his very first hole yesterday would have been even more unsettling for Jordan Spieth if he was aware of the stat.
Many an eyebrow was raised in astonishment when Mr and Mrs Sergio Garcia named their newly born daughter Azalea Adele in appreciation of his 2017 Masters victory and the beautiful, colourful flower after which the 12th hole at Augusta is called. Hopefully,
Sergio won’t live up to the words expressed on his Twitter account in the aftermath of his disastrous record equalling 13 at the 15th on Thursday.
“What happened yesterday was unfortunate for me and it hurt but I tried to handle it like a Masters Champion should,” he tweeted. “That same hole gave me that green jacket last year so we might end up naming our next kid Firethorn.” Firethorn, another of the much-loved Augusta foliage, is the name by which the 15th hole is known.
Garcia’s wife Angela is certainly standing by his man. She tweeted, “Prouder than ever of you! You bounced back with a birdie on 16. Then we came home to our beautiful baby girl & you totally forgot about the day’s events because you know what’s truly important. That’s golf and you’re amazing.”
American amateur Doug Rhim has set himself one major target for his first appearance at the Masters — to make the cut. And he has been making a very interesting shot at achieving just that. He was two over standing over his approach to the 18th on Thursday evening. He then hit the perfect approach, sending the ball into the hole for an eagle two, and the massive crowd surrounding the green into raptures! It looked as if he might have undone all the good of that shot when running up a double bogey at the 6th yesterday but again he fought back with birdies at the 2nd and 3rd that helped him achieve his aim of being here for the weekend.
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